The Importance of Education and Skill Development for Economic Growth in the Information Era

Charles R. Hulten

NBER Working Paper No. 24141
Issued in December 2017
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

The neoclassical growth accounting model used by the BLS to sort out the contributions of the various sources of growth in the U.S. economy accords a relatively small role to education. This result seems at variance with the revolution in information technology and the emergence of the “knowledge economy”, or with the increase in educational attainment and the growth in the wage premium for higher education. This paper revisits this result using “old fashioned” activity analysis, rather than the neoclassical production function, as the technology underlying economic growth. An important feature of this activity-based technology is that labor and capital are strong complements, and both inputs are therefore necessary for the operation of an activity. The composition of the activities in operation at any point in time is thus a strong determinant of the demand for labor skills, and changes in the composition driven by technical innovation are a source of the increase in the demand for more complex skills documented in the literature. A key result of this paper is that the empirical sources-of-growth results reported by BLS could equally have been generated by the activity-analysis model. This allows the BLS results to be interpreted in a very different way, one that assigns a greater importance to labor skills and education.

download in pdf format
   (333 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24141

Published: The Importance of Education and Skill Development for Economic Growth in the Information Era, Charles R. Hulten. in Education, Skills, and Technical Change: Implications for Future US GDP Growth, Hulten and Ramey. 2019

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Duarte and Restuccia w23979 Relative Prices and Sectoral Productivity
Korinek and Stiglitz w24174 Artificial Intelligence and Its Implications for Income Distribution and Unemployment
List and Momeni w24169 When Corporate Social Responsibility Backfires: Theory and Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment
Azar, Marinescu, and Steinbaum w24147 Labor Market Concentration
Acemoglu and Restrepo w24119 Low-Skill and High-Skill Automation
NBER Videos

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

Contact Us