The Returns to Education and Experience : Trends in France over the Last Thirty-Five Years

By Marion Selz-Laurière, Claude Thélot


A single model applied to data from a large number of surveys covering thirty-five years provides highly empirical but comparable measurements of the economic returns to education and to experience, in the most general sense of that term, and of their evolution in France. While this model does not form the “true” model of these returns, it supplies an interpretative framework of relatively clear synthetic rates. The relative fragility of the approach in respect of conceptual choices (which concepts of education and experience ?) and empirical choices (what level of data precision, which estimates ?) raises doubts about the potential contribution of excessive sophistication in models and econometric methods. The results point up the explanatory power of the model and indicate that the returns to education exceed those to experience. The income returns to education fell gradually between 1962 and 1985, since when they have remained stable. This overall trend in fact masks a rise in the returns to very short periods of schooling, a clear decline at around thirteen years of schooling (corresponding to the baccalauréat), and virtual stability for the longest periods.

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