Dynamic Models of Human Capital Accumulation

Thumbnail Image




Ransom, Tyler


Arcidiacono, Peter

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



This dissertation consists of three separate essays that use dynamic models to better understand the human capital accumulation process. First, I analyze the role of migration in human capital accumulation and how migration varies over the business cycle. An interesting trend in the data is that, over the period of the Great Recession, overall migration rates in the US remained close to their respective long-term trends. However, migration evolved differently by employment status: unemployed workers were more likely to migrate during the recession and employed workers less likely. To isolate mechanisms explaining this divergence, I estimate a dynamic, non-stationary search model of migration using a national longitudinal survey from 2004-2013. I focus on the role of employment frictions on migration decisions in addition to other explanations in the literature. My results show that a divergence in job offer and job destruction rates caused differing migration incentives by employment status. I also find that migration rates were muted because of the national scope of the Great Recession. Model simulations show that spatial unemployment insurance in the form of a moving subsidy can help workers move to more favorable markets.

In the second essay, my coauthors and I explore the role of information frictions in the acquisition of human capital. Specifically, we investigate the determinants of college attrition in a setting where individuals have imperfect information about their schooling ability and labor market productivity. We estimate a dynamic structural model of schooling and work decisions, where high school graduates choose a bundle of education and work combinations. We take into account the heterogeneity in schooling investments by distinguishing between two- and four-year colleges and graduate school, as well as science and non-science majors for four-year colleges. Individuals may also choose whether to work full-time, part-time, or not at all. A key feature of our approach is to account for correlated learning through college grades and wages, thus implying that individuals may leave or re-enter college as a result of the arrival of new information on their ability and/or productivity. We use our results to quantify the importance of informational frictions in explaining the observed school-to-work transitions and to examine sorting patterns.

In the third essay, my coauthors and I investigate the evolution over the last two decades in the wage returns to schooling and early work experience.

Using data from the 1979 and 1997 panels of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we isolate changes in skill prices from changes in composition by estimating a dynamic model of schooling and work decisions. Importantly, this allows us to account for the endogenous nature of the changes in educational and accumulated work experience over this time period. We find an increase over this period in the returns to working in high school, but a decrease in the returns to working while in college. We also find an increase in the incidence of working in college, but that any detrimental impact of in-college work experience is offset by changes in other observable characteristics. Overall, our decomposition of the evolution in skill premia suggests that both price and composition effects play an important role. The role of unobserved ability is also important.






Ransom, Tyler (2015). Dynamic Models of Human Capital Accumulation. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9929.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.