Benefits of a Broad Education

October 28, 2011

A new, multi-country research paper provides additional evidence for the value of a broad/general education as opposed to a focused vocational education.  A vocational education may provide for a smoother transition into the workforce for a first job, but the recipient of the broader education has increasing advantages in later years.  Put another way, a liberal arts education isn’t so much about preparation for your first job as it is preparation for your last one.

Here is the summary and availability information from SSRN:

General Education, Vocational Education, and Labor-Market Outcomes over the Life-Cycle

Eric A. Hanushek, Ludger Woessmann, Lei Zhang

NBER Working Paper No. 17504
Issued in October 2011
NBER Program(s):   ED   LS   PE

Policy debates about the balance of vocational and general education programs focus on the school-to-work transition. But with rapid technological change, gains in youth employment from vocational education may be offset by less adaptability and thus diminished employment later in life. To test our main hypothesis that any relative labor-market advantage of vocational education decreases with age, we employ a difference-in-differences approach that compares employment rates across different ages for people with general and vocational education. Using micro data for 18 countries from the International Adult Literacy Survey, we find strong support for the existence of such a trade-off, which is most pronounced in countries emphasizing apprenticeship programs. Results are robust to accounting for ability patterns and to propensity-score matching.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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