Beyond Qualifications: Returns to Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Skills in Colombia

49 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2015 Last revised: 22 Jun 2022

See all articles by Pablo A. Acosta

Pablo A. Acosta

Corporacion Andina de Fomento

Noel Muller

World Bank

Miguel Sarzosa

University of Maryland


This paper examines the relationship between individuals' skills and labor market outcomes for the working-age population of Colombia's urban areas. Using a 2012 unique household survey, the paper finds that cognitive skills (aptitudes to perform mental tasks such as comprehension or reasoning) and socio-emotional skills (personality traits and behaviors) matter for favorable labor market outcomes in the Colombian context, although they have distinct roles. Cognitive skills are greatly associated with higher earnings and holding a formal job or a high-qualified occupation. By contrast, socio-emotional skills appear to have little direct influence on these outcomes, but play a stronger role in labor market participation.Both types of skills, especially cognitive skills, are largely associated with pursuing tertiary education. The analysis applies standard econometric techniques as a benchmark and structural estimations to correct for the measurement error of skill constructs.

Keywords: Colombia, cognitive skills, socio-emotional skills, personality traits, latent skills, returns to skills, unobserved heterogeneity, labor market outcomes

JEL Classification: J24, J31, I24

Suggested Citation

Acosta, Pablo A. and Muller, Noel and Sarzosa, Miguel, Beyond Qualifications: Returns to Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Skills in Colombia. IZA Discussion Paper No. 9403, Available at SSRN:

Pablo A. Acosta (Contact Author)

Corporacion Andina de Fomento ( email )

United States
58-212-209-6609 (Phone)

Noel Muller

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Miguel Sarzosa

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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