Bryan Caplan  

An Educational Challenge

Ponnuru's Corollary to Hanlon'... Paul Krugman on French economi...
In Mastering 'Metrics, Angrist and Pischke write:

[S]ome people cut their schooling short so as to pursue more immediately lucrative activities.  Sir Mick Jagger abandoned his pursuit of a degree at the London School of Economics in 1963 to play with an outfit known as the Rolling Stones... No less impressive, Swedish épée fencer Johan Harmenberg left MIT after 2 years of study in 1979, winning a gold medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, instead of earning and MIT diploma.  Harmenberg went on to become a biotech executive and successful researcher.  These examples illustrate how people with high ability - musical, athletic, entrepreneurial, or otherwise - may be economically successful without the benefit of an education.  This suggests that... ability bias, can be negative as easily as positive.

My challenge: Outliers aside, name any measured ability that on average falls as education rises.  I'm looking for simple averages, nothing fancy.

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COMMENTS (23 to date)
Wobbles writes:
Pierre Lemieux writes:

Err... the ability to appreciate the importance of what many others don't have and miss?

Anthony writes:

The ability to appreciate the epistemic merits of common sense and intuition?

Mark writes:

1 rep max bench press

Joe Munson writes:

I think there are a few things that might decrease with education.

-Creativity. IIRC I think this has been empirically shown. At least according to many creativity measurements.

I also wouldn't be terribly surprised if health knowledge decreases with high school health class. I know my Utah high school health class taught me lies. I was skeptical at the time, but I still believed some of the lies. They gave me negative health knowledge. Most of it was "white lies". implying that you are likely to get aids with 1 exposure, exaggerating the effects of illegal drug use, sexual activity, etc.

Anecdotally, the desire/ability to not fear sounding foolish and try new things, decreases, and I think a kind of learned helplessness seems to drift over the a lot of people if they perform sub-optimally or fail at learning in the high school environment. Being constantly ranked and compared to students (many of which will likely do better than you) is extremely disheartening.

I'm also amazed at how much more math an Vietnamese exchange student learned through her high school, and how little that extra math seems to help her. Though it certainly didn't hurt her! Unless you count hating math as hurting her, which seems reasonable.

December writes:

What about number of lifetime sexual partners (as opposed to children)?

john hare writes:

When I started in construction, the blueprints were hand drawn by semiskilled draftsmen. Now they are computer drawn by heavily educated engineers and architects. The current blueprints are less effective at communicating the actual project on average. In my first Construction Working Drawings class, the prof stated, "A blueprint is an instrument of communication". The current crop doesn't seem to have received that memo.

Same problem. The higher the ivory tower, the less effective at communicating with students.

I could go on. It is a matter of observation that for many occupations, excessive classroom theory damages streetwise ability to function. Not across the board,some can use the knowledge, but for many it is a straitjacket of inapplicable theory.

Hana writes:


Ryan writes:

When I was a teenager, my friends and I all knew how to work on cars. Now, my friends who never went to college still remember, and I don't.

I would guess that people with less education are more likely to know how to fix cars, how to fix their sink, how to fix a hole in drywall, how to install a sprinkler system, how to fix a roof, how to clean and maintain a firearm, and so on. As they age, they get better at these things--while those of us with advanced degrees probably get worse.

As an aside, the quoted passage is silly since it relies on anecdotes of people basically getting lucky, or at least receiving low-probability, high-productivity shock realizations. "Hey, if you leave college and start a band that hits the top of the charts, you can make a lot of money!"

Bob Knaus writes:

Effectiveness of military officers. The best thing your colleague David can do to advance his anti-war agenda is to continue doing an excellent job in the classroom.

Bruce writes:

NBA talent and years of college.

David Iach writes:

Skills that are associated with a low education usually have to suffer from increases in education.

December writes:

Following up on my comment regarding lifetime sexual partners, this 2009 paper supports the negative correlation of educational level and lifetime sexual partners (though IMO the paper has the causation backwards). To tie this in to Bryan's post, I think lifetime sexual partners is correlated with and indicative of the ability to attain sexual partners (and is not an artifact of different sexual mores among classes), so this is an example of negative correlation between education attainment and ability.

J Scheppers writes:


For entrepreneurs, I argue that education does increase ability to a point. Education clearly up through 12 years is on net a positive, but drops off after that to being negative after 2 years of college. These individuals general have enough observable skill that they don't need the signaling power of a degree. The key learning in the short college time is how to escape social constraints.

The decrease in value is due to the purpose of higher education to conform students to social roles, in contrast to where it is the job of entrepreneurs to create value outside the expected social roles. It is more important for these individuals to learn in the arbitrage environment than in a constrained university environment.

I have little evidence except Peter Thiel fellowship and the anecdotes Dr. Caplan provides himself.

michael stallman writes:

My sister skipped college to become a professional ballerina at age 18. After ten years, as her feet had more problems, she finished a bachelors in mathematics.

JK Brown writes:

Creativity, or possibly the creativity element of divergent thinking (as Ken Robinson has discussed)

It has long been known that education damages creativity. Of course, what isn't determined is whether it is the schooling, the instruction or the education that does the damage.

What about the difference between red states and blue states in the US? I guess the density of postgraduate degrees is higher in blue states.

Imagine a test for empathetic understanding, a question in which people from blue states are asked to describe the thoughts concerning how to vote of people in red states. Since we are looking for empathy, I would insist that the grading be done by people holding a red-state worldview, by one who can feel "Yes, this respondent gets it" or "No, this respondent does not get it".

My worldview suggests that more "educated" people would score less well on this test.

Maximum Liberty writes:

I think scores of "emotional intelligence" might be. I'm not sure that EQ is really a thing, as opposed to correlating with personality. But my thought is that (successful) sales people tend to score very well on EQ surveys, but tend not to have much formal education (because if they had a professional degree, they'd be in their professional instead).

Fred Anderson writes:

I wonder if patience -- e.g., tolerance for boring, repetitive tasks -- might not be one.

And while education should teach one humility, my career on a college campus exposed me to a lot of people who thought that because they were expert at topic X, they were expert at everything else. I sometimes suspected that almost the opposite was true: That they had achieved their mastery by being very focused and, in consequence, were unusually clueless about all those subjects outside that focus. That a form of Dunning-Kruger was going on here.

David Friedman writes:

I expect that the ability to enjoy some forms of literature declines with education—because the more you know, the more difficult it becomes to suspend disbelief in bad science, history or economics. The ability to write such literature might decline as well.

JHanley writes:

Based on some of the reasons here, I'm going to suggest the ability to define ability.

Miguel Madeira writes:


Mike M writes:

Your question is ambiguous. Some have obviously interpreted it to apply to individuals, i.e. as an individual becomes more educated, which ability that he has decreases, whereas others have interpreted it to apply to populations.

So, perhaps it's the ability to pose unambiguous questions (which is less insulting than the opposite conclusion).

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