February 2009

IZA DP No. 4047: Literacy Traps: Society-wide Education and Individual Skill Premia

Vidya Atal, Kaushik Basu, John Gray, Travis Lee

Using a model of O-ring production function, the paper demonstrates how certain communities can get caught in a low-literacy trap in which each individual finds it not worthwhile investing in higher skills because others are not high-skilled. The model sheds light on educational policy. It is shown that policy for promoting human capital has to take the form of a mechanism for solving the coordination failure in people’s choice of educational strategy.