The Effects of Education, Personality, and IQ on Earnings of High-Ability Men

Miriam Gensowski, James Heckman, Peter Savelyev
2011 unpublished
This paper estimates the internal rate of return (IRR) to education for men of the Terman sample, a 70-year long prospective cohort study of high-ability individuals. The Terman data is unique in that it not only provides full working-life earnings histories of the participants, but it also includes detailed profiles of each subject, including IQ and measures of latent personality traits. Having information on latent personality traits is significant as it allows us to measure the importance of
more » ... e the importance of personality on educational attainment and lifetime earnings. Our analysis addresses two problems of the literature on returns to education: First, we establish causality of the treatment effect of education on earnings by implementing generalized matching on a full set of observable individual characteristics and unobserved personality traits. Second, since we observe lifetime earnings data, our estimates of the IRR are direct and do not depend on the assumptions that are usually made in order to justify the interpretation of regression coefficients as rates of return. For the males, the returns to education beyond high school are sizeable. For example, the IRR for obtaining a bachelor's degree over a high school diploma is 11.1%, and for a doctoral degree over a bachelor's degree it is 6.7%. These results are unique because they highlight the returns to high-ability and high-education individuals, who are not well-represented in regular data sets. Our results highlight the importance of personality and intelligence on our outcome variables. We find that personality traits similar to the Big Five personality traits are significant factors that help determine educational attainment and lifetime earnings. Even holding the level of education constant, measures of personality traits have significant effects on earnings. Similarly, IQ is rewarded in the labor market, independently of education. Most of the effect of personality and IQ on lifetime earnings arise late in life, during the prime working years. Therefore, estimates from samples with shorter durations underestimate the treatment effects.