Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?


This paper presents evidence showing that individuals’ season of birth is
related to their educational attainment because of the combined effects of
school start age policy and compulsory school attendance laws. In most school
districts, individuals born in the beginning of the year start school at a
slightly older age, and therefore are eligible to drop out of school after
completing fewer years of schooling than individuals born near the end of the
year. Our estimates suggest that as many as 25 percent of potential dropouts
remain in school because of compulsory schooling laws. We estimate the impact
of compulsory schooling on earnings by using quarter of birth as an
instrumental variable for education in an earnings equation. This provides a
valid identification strategy because date of birth is unlikely to be
correlated with omitted earnings determinants. The instrumental variables
estimate of the rate of return to education is remarkably close to the
ordinary least squares estimate, suggesting that there is little ability bias
in conventional estimates of the return to education. The results also imply
that individuals who are compelled to attend school longer than they desire by
compulsory schooling laws reap a substantial return for their extra schooling.

Year of Publication
Date Published
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Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 106, No. 4, November 1991
Working Papers