Do Returns to Education Depend on How and Who You Ask?

40 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2016

See all articles by Pieter M. Serneels

Pieter M. Serneels

University of East Anglia (UEA)

Kathleen Beegle

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Andrew Dillon

Michigan State University

Date Written: July 18, 2016


Returns to education remain an important parameter of interest in economic analysis. A large literature estimates returns to education in the labor market, often carefully addressing issues such as selection, into wage employment and in terms of completed schooling. There has been much less exploration of whether estimated returns are robust to survey design. Specifically, do returns to education differ depending on how information about wage work is collected? Using a survey experiment in Tanzania, this paper investigates whether survey methods matter for estimating mincerian returns to education. The results show that estimated returns vary by questionnaire design, but not by whether the information on employment and wages is self-reported or collected by a proxy respondent (another household member). The differences due to questionnaire type are substantial varying from 6 percentage points higher returns to education for the highest educated men, to 14 percentage points higher for the least educated women, after allowing for non-linearity and endogeneity in the estimation of these parameters. These differences are of similar magnitudes as the bias in OLS estimation, which receives considerable attention in the literature. The findings underline that survey design matters for the estimation of structural parameters, and that care is needed when comparing across contexts and over time, in particular when data is generated by different surveys.

Keywords: Educational Sciences

Suggested Citation

Serneels, Pieter M. and Beegle, Kathleen and Dillon, Andrew, Do Returns to Education Depend on How and Who You Ask? (July 18, 2016). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 7747. Available at SSRN:

Pieter M. Serneels (Contact Author)

University of East Anglia (UEA) ( email )

Norwich Research Park
Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ
United Kingdom

Kathleen Beegle

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States


Andrew Dillon

Michigan State University ( email )

Agriculture Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1122
United States

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