Eliciting Student Expectations of the Returns to Schooling

Jeff Dominitz, Charles F. Manski

NBER Working Paper No. 4936
Issued in November 1994
NBER Program(s):   LS

We report here on the design and first application of an interactive computer-administered personal interview (CAPI) survey eliciting from high school students and college undergraduates their expectations of the income they would earn if they were to complete different levels of schooling. We also elicit respondents' beliefs about current earnings distributions. Whereas a scattering of earlier studies have elicited point expectations of earnings unconditional on future schooling, we elicit subjective earnings distributions under alternative scenarios for future earnings. We find that respondents, even ones as young as high school sophomores, are willing and able to respond meaningfully to questions eliciting their earnings expectations in probabilistic form. Respondents vary considerably in their earnings expectations but there is a common belief that the returns to a college education are positive and that earnings rise between ages 30 and 40. There is a common belief that one's own future earnings are rather uncertain. Moreover, respondents tend to overestimate the current degree of earnings inequality in American society.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4936

Published: Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 31, no. 1 (Winter 1996): 1-26. citation courtesy of

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