The Return to Cognitive Skills in the Australian Labour Market

17 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2012

Date Written: March 2012


The labour market returns to education and cognitive skills are examined using the Australian component of the IALS from 2006. A key feature of the data is the availability of objective measures of literacy, numeracy and problem‐solving skills, along with a rich array of personal and job‐related characteristics. The mean return to an additional year of education is estimated to be 6.2 per cent, almost one‐third of which may be attributed to the acquisition of cognitive skills. Controlling for cognitive skills in the earnings equation has a small effect on the estimated return to labour market experience, while accounting for approximately half of the negative wage gap for immigrants from NESBs. The return to cognitive skills is uniform across quantiles of the conditional hourly earnings distribution. There is strong evidence of credentialism in the returns to education in Australia. A significant component of the ‘sheepskin’ effects in the returns to education is attributable to the higher cognitive skills associated with the completion of a credential.

JEL Classification: J24, J31

Suggested Citation

Barrett, Garry F., The Return to Cognitive Skills in the Australian Labour Market (March 2012). Economic Record, Vol. 88, Issue 280, pp. 1-17, 2012, Available at SSRN: or

Garry F. Barrett (Contact Author)

University of Sydney ( email )

Rm 370 Merewether (H04)
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006 2008

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