Working Papers

Labor Earnings, Misallocation, and the Returns to Education in Mexico

AUTHOR(s): Levy Algazi, Santiago , López-Calva, Luis
PUBLISHED: February 2016
RELATED TOPICS: Poverty Reduction and Labor


Over the last two decades Mexico has had an open trade regime, experienced macroeconomic stability, and made substantial progress in education. However, average workers’ earnings have stagnated and earnings for workers with more schooling have declined, compressing the earnings distribution and lowering the returns to education. We hypothesize that these developments are explained by large and persistent of distortions that misallocate resources towards less productive firms, since these firms are substantially less intensive in educated workers than more productive ones. We show that at the same time that the relative supply of workers with more years of schooling has increased, misallocation of resources toward less productive firms has persisted. These two trends have generated a widening mismatch between the supply and demand for educated workers. We decompose worker earnings into observable and unobservable firm and individual worker characteristics, and simulate a counterfactual earnings distribution in the absence of misallocation. Under the counterfactual, earnings differentials across schooling levels would increase, as would the returns to education. In parallel, earnings differentials, rather than narrowing overtime, would widen. We conclude arguing that the persistence of distortions that misallocate resources toward lower-productivity firms impedes Mexico from taking full advantage of its investments in the human capital of its workers.

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