3:00—4:30 PM

What Determines Adult Cognitive Skills? Impacts of Pre-School, School-Years and Post-School Experiences in Guatemala

Center for Global Development
1800 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Third Floor

Jere R. Behrman, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, will present his paper entitled "What Determines Adult Cognitive Skills? Impacts of Pre-School, School-Years and Post-School Experiences in Guatemala" at this CGD seminar.

Please RSVP to Sarah Dean at by Dec. 19th.

ABSTRACT: Most investigations of the importance of and the determinants of adult cognitive skills assume that they are produced primarily by schooling and that schooling is predetermined in a statistical sense. But these assumptions may lead to misleading inferences not only about the impact of schooling, but also about the importance of pre-school and post-school experiences on adult cognitive skills. This study uses an unusually rich longitudinal data set collected over 35 years in Guatemala to investigate production functions for adult reading-comprehension and non-verbal cognitive skills as dependent on behaviorally-determined pre-school, school attainment, and post-school experiences. Major results are: (1) Schooling has significant and substantial impact on adult reading-comprehension cognitive skills (but not on adult non-verbal cognitive skills) —but estimates of this impact are biased upwards substantially if there is not control for the behavioral determinants of schooling in the presence of persistent unobserved factors such as genetic endowments and somewhat if family background factors that appear to be correlated with genetic endowments are included among the instruments. (2) Both pre-school and post-school experiences have substantial significant impacts on adult cognitive skills that tend to be underestimated if these pre- and post-schooling experiences are treated as statistically predetermined—in contrast to the upward bias for schooling, which suggests that the underlying physical and job-related components of genetic endowments are negatively correlated with those for cognitive skills. (3) The failure in most studies to incorporate pre- and post-schooling experiences in the analysis of adult cognitive skills or outcomes affected by adult acknowledge is likely to lead to misleading over-emphasis on the role of schooling relative to these pre-and post-schooling experiences. (4) There is no much support for nonlinearities, either in the form of changing marginal returns or interactions. (5) Gender differences in the coefficients of the three life-cycle stage experiences in the adult cognitive skills production functions are not significant. Therefore most of the fairly substantial differences in adult cognitive skills favoring males on average originates m gender differences in completed grades of schooling favoring males (which is particularly important for reading-comprehension cognitive skills) and gender differences in experience in skilled jobs favoring males, offset somewhat by gender differences favoring males in unskilled jobs. However an additive term for males appears significant if added by itself in the non-verbal cognitive skills production function, and its inclusion reduces the absolute size of the other coefficients (most of all, the one for skilled job tenure), though we cannot determine confidently what this male effect is representing given the data available.

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