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Education, skills and human capital

The human capital or skill force of a nation plays a critical role in determining the productivity and growth of its economy, the well-being of its population, and the level of social and economic inequality. Skills – both hard and soft – are shaped across the life-cycle through a series of private and public investments, made by parents, employers, and society as a whole through public spending on education.

IFS has made important contributions to understanding the process through which human capital is accumulated, how different types of skills relate to adult well-being, and how effective human capital policies are at promoting skill accumulation.

Our research in this area includes work on the role of the family and the importance of parenting and the home environment for the development of children. It also includes work on the determinants and effectiveness of educational investments, from early childcare and pre-school education, through to primary and secondary schools, post-compulsory schooling, higher education and adult learning. For example, we have evaluated the impact of interventions, such parenting programmes, school breakfast clubs, teacher training programmes, financial incentives designed to broaden university access, as well as vocational and job training programmes. We have also done research on school quality and the long-term impact of school starting age on academic achievements and skill formation.

Our rigorous research makes IFS an important actor in the public debate on education and human capital policy. For example, we frequently analyze and comment on school and higher education funding reforms. We have also performed a comprehensive analysis of the long-run trends in education spending and of the extent to which such spending is redistributive.

Selected highlights

Journal article | Quarterly Journal of Economics
We assigned two cohorts of kindergarten students, totaling more than 24,000 children, to teachers within schools with a rule that is as good as random. We collected data on children at the beginning of the school year and applied 12 tests of math, language, and executive function (EF) at the end of ...
Journal article | Review of Economics and Statistics
The paper examines the effects of pupil-teacher ratios and type of school on educational attainment and wages using the British National Child Development Survey (NCDS). The NCDS is a panel survey that follows a cohort of individuals born in March 1958 and has a rich set of background variables ...
Journal article | Review of Economic Studies
In this paper, we use an economic model to analyse data from a major randomized social experiment, namely PROGRESA in Mexico, and to evaluate its impact on school participation.
Past event
The IFS and the Research Centre for Micro-Social Change at ISER are organising a conference bringing together national and international experts on childcare and its role in promoting parental labour supply to discuss how evidence can inform the current policy debate in England.


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Chris Belfield
Research Economist
Chris Belfield
Jack Britton
Senior Research Economist
Sarah Cattan
Associate Director
Christine Farquharson
Research Economist
Wenchao (Michelle) Jin
Research Economist
Laura van der Erve
Research Economist