A more skilled population ahead: age or cohort effects?

Skills and Work

By Guillermo Montt.

Blog43.0bIn 2012, the OECD released the first results of the Survey of Adults Skills. Workers in Japan and Finland showed higher proficiency than workers in Spain or Italy. Those findings captured the media attention, as OECD country rankings typically do. But there is much more in the data.

The survey assessed the literacy and numeracy skills of adults aged 16 to 65 in more than 20 countries. One of the key findings is that proficiency has somewhat of an inverted U-shape. Literacy proficiency typically peaks among 25 to 34 year-olds and is lowest among those over 55. There are several ways to interpret this relationship, which could be a mixture of age and cohort effects.

If driven purely by age effects, this relationship would tell us that, as workers and individuals age, they acquire more skills (by continuing their studies in formal education, for example) but…

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