Human Capital

Posted on Monday, November 28 at 12:04 by Patm
Human Capital by Gary S. Becker To most people capital means a bank account, a hundred shares of IBM stock, assembly lines, or steel plants in the Chicago area. These are all forms of capital in the sense that they are assets that yield income and other useful outputs over long periods of time. But these tangible forms of capital are not the only ones. Schooling, a computer training course, expenditures of medical care, and lectures on the virtues of punctuality and honesty also are capital. That is because they raise earnings, improve health, or add to a person's good habits over much of his lifetime. Therefore, economists regard expenditures on education, training, medical care, and so on as investments in human capital. They are called human capital because people cannot be separated from their knowledge, skills, health, or values in the way they can be separated from their financial and physical assets. Education and training are the most important investments in human capital. Many studies have shown that high school and college education in the United States greatly raise a person's income, even after netting out direct and indirect costs of schooling, and even after adjusting for the fact that people with more education tend to have higher IQs and better-educated and richer parents. Similar evidence is now available for many years from over a hundred countries with different cultures and economic systems. The earnings of more educated people are almost always well above average, although the gains are generally larger in less developed countries. Consider the differences in average earnings between college and high school graduates in the United States during the past fifty years. Until the early sixties college graduates earned about 45 percent more than high school graduates. In the sixties this premium from college education shot up to almost 60 percent, but it fell back in the seventies to under 50 percent. The fall during the seventies led some economists and the media to worry about "overeducated Americans." Indeed, in 1976 Harvard economist Richard Freeman wrote a book titled The Overeducated American. This sharp fall in the return to investments in human capital put the concept of human capital itself into some disrepute. Among other things it caused doubt about whether education and training really do raise productivity or simply provide signals ("credentials") about talents and abilities. But the monetary gains from a college education rose sharply again during the eighties, to the highest level in the past fifty years. Economists Kevin M. Murphy and Finis Welch have shown that the premium on getting a college education in the eighties was over 65 percent. Lawyers, accountants, engineers, and many other professionals experienced especially rapid advances in earnings. The earnings advantage of high school graduates over high school dropouts has also greatly increased. Talk about overeducated Americans has vanished, and it has been replaced by concern once more about whether the United States provides adequate quality and quantity of education and other training. Remainder of article at [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 28, 2005]


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