August 2015

IZA DP No. 9275: The Labour Market Effects of Academic and Vocational Education over the Life Cycle: Evidence from Two British Cohorts

published in: Journal of Human Capital, 2017, 11 (1), 106-166

Several commentators have argued that vocational education provides a smoother school to work transition than academic education. In the long - run, however, the skills it provides depreciate faster and individuals with this type of education are less capable of adapting to technical change. Because of this, its short – term advantages trade off with expected long-term disadvantages in terms of employment, wages or both. Using two UK cohort studies, that allow us to follow individuals for at least 16 years in the labour market, we investigate whether this view has empirical support. For employment, our results indicate that the initial advantage associated to vocational education declines over time, without turning however into a disadvantage at later ages. For real net wages, the picture is more nuanced, with results that vary by cohort and educational level. Overall, our evidence suggests that vocational education is associated to lower expected long-term utility only for the younger cohort with higher (post-secondary) education. We further distinguish between dominant and non-dominant vocational education to account for the different bundles of skills held by individuals, and find that those with a more balanced bundle tend to have higher expected long-term earnings.