James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Nicholas S. Mader

NBER Working Paper No. 16064
Issued in June 2010
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS   PE

The General Educational Development (GED) credential is issued on the basis of an eight hour subject-based test. The test claims to establish equivalence between dropouts and traditional high school graduates, opening the door to college and positions in the labor market. In 2008 alone, almost 500,000 dropouts passed the test, amounting to 12% of all high school credentials issued in that year. This chapter reviews the academic literature on the GED, which finds minimal value of the certificate in terms of labor market outcomes and that only a few individuals successfully use it as a path to obtain post-secondary credentials. Although the GED establishes cognitive equivalence on one measure of scholastic aptitude, recipients still face limited opportunity due to deficits in noncognitive skills such as persistence, motivation and reliability. The literature finds that the GED testing program distorts social statistics on high school completion rates, minority graduation gaps, and sources of wage growth. Recent work demonstrates that, through its availability and low cost, the GED also induces some students to drop out of school. The GED program is unique to the United States and Canada, but provides policy insight relevant to any nation's educational context.

download in pdf format
   (12514 K)

email paper

This paper was revised on December 5, 2011

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16064

Published: “The GED,” (with J. E. Humphries and N. S. Mader). In, E. A. Hanushek, S. Machin, and L. W ̈ oßmann (eds.) Handbook of the Economics Of Education, Volume 3 . Amsterdam: North-Holland. pp. 423-484. (2011).

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Heckman and LaFontaine w12018 Bias Corrected Estimates of GED Returns
Cunha and Heckman w16201 Investing in Our Young People
Heckman, Humphries, LaFontaine, and Rodriguez w14044 Taking the Easy Way Out: How the GED Testing Program Induces Students to Drop Out
Tyler and Lofstrom w13816 Is the GED an Effective Route to Postsecondary Education for School Dropouts?
Borghans, Golsteyn, Heckman, and Humphries w16917 Identification Problems in Personality Psychology
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us