The “Mincer Equation” Thirty Years After Schooling, Experience, and Earnings

  • Thomas Lemieux


This paper evaluates the empirical performance of the standard Mincer earnings equation thirty years after the publication of Schooling, Experience and Earnings. Over this period, there has been a dramatic expansion in micro data and estimation techniques available to labor economists. How does the Mincer equation stand in light of these advances in empirical labor economics? Is it time to revise our benchmark model? On the basis of the existing literature and some new empirical estimates, I conclude that the Mincer equation remains an accurate benchmark for estimating wage determination equations provided that it is adjusted by (1) including a quartic function in potential experience instead of just a quadratic, (2) allowing for a quadratic term in years of schooling to capture the growing convexity in the relationship between schooling and wages, and (3) allowing for cohort effects to capture the dramatic growth in returns to schooling among cohorts born after 1950.


Human Capital Minimum Wage Current Population Survey Relative Supply Weekly Earning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beaudry, Paul, and David Green. (2000). “Cohort Patterns in Earnings and the Skill-Biased Technical Change Hypothesis.” Canadian Journal of Economics 33, 907–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, Gary S. (1975). Human capital (2nd Edition), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, Gary S., and Barry Chiswick. (1966). “Education and the Distribution of Earnings.” American Economic Review 56, 358–369.Google Scholar
  4. Card, David. (1999). “The Causal Effect of Education on Earnings.” in Orley Ashenfelter and David Card (eds), Handbook of Labor Economics, Amsterdam: North Holland, pp. 1801–1863.Google Scholar
  5. Card, David, and John DiNardo. (2002). “Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles.” Journal of Labor Economics 20, 733–783CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Card, David and Alan Krueger. (1992). “Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States.” Journal of Political Economy 100, 1–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. (2001a). “Can Falling Supply Explain the Rising Return to College for Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 116, 705–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. (2001b). “Dropout and Enrollment Trends in the Post War Period: What Went Wrong in the 1970s?” in Jonathan Gruber (ed.) An Economic Analysis of Risky Behavior Among Youth, Chicago: University of Chicago Press for NBER, pp. 439–482.Google Scholar
  9. Chiswick, and Barry. (this volume). “Jacob Mincer, Experience, and the Distribution of Earnings”Google Scholar
  10. Deschênes, and Olivier. (2001). “Unobserved Ability, Comparative Advantage and the Rising Return to Education in the United States: A Cohort-Based Approach.” Princeton University Industrial Relations Section Working Paper No. 465, August.Google Scholar
  11. Fortin, Nicole M., and Thomas Lemieux. (1998). “Rank Regressions, Wage Distributions, and the Gender Gap.” Journal of Human Resources 33, 610–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gosling, Amanda, Stephen Machin, and Costas Meghir. (2000). “The Changing Distribution of Male Wages in the U.K..” Review of Economic Studies 67, 635–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heckman, James J., Anne Layne-Farrar, and Petra E. Todd. (1996). “Human Capital Pricing Equations with an Application to Estimating the Effect of Schooling Quality on Earnings.” Review of Economics and Statistics 78, 562–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heckman, James J., Lance J. Lochner, and Petra E. Todd. (2003). “Fifty Years of Mincer Earnings Regressions.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 9732, May.Google Scholar
  15. Heckman, James J., and Solomon Polachek. (1974). “Empirical Evidence on the Functional Form of the Earnings-Schooling Relationship.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 69, 350–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Katz, Lawrence, and Kevin Murphy. (1992) “Changes in Relative Wages, 1963–1987: Supply and Demand Factors.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107, 35–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lemieux, and Thomas. (2005). “Increasing Residual Wage Inequality: Composition Effects. Noisy Data, or Rising Demand for Skill?” University of British Columbia mimeo.Google Scholar
  18. MaCurdy, Thomas, and Thomas Mroz. (1991). “Estimating Macroeconomic Effects on Wages from Cohort Specifications.” Stanford University mimeo.Google Scholar
  19. Miller, and Herman P. (1966). Income distribution in the United States, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce: Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  20. Mincer, and Jacob. (1958). “Investment in Human Capital and Personal Income Distribution.” Journal of Political Economy 66, 281–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mincer, and Jacob. (1974). Schooling, Experience and Earnings, Columbia University Press: New York.Google Scholar
  22. Mincer, and Jacob. (1997). “Changes in Wage Inequality, 1970–1990.” Research in Labor Economics 16, 1–18.Google Scholar
  23. Murphy, Kevin M., and Finis Welch. (1990). “Empirical Age-Earnings Profiles.” Journal of Labor Economics 8, 202–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Polachek, and Solomon W. (this volume). “Proving Mincer Right: Mincer’s Overtaking Point and the Lifecycle Earnings Distribution”Google Scholar
  25. Polachek, Solomon W., and W. Stanley Siebert. (1993). The Economics of Earnings. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Rosen, and Sherwin. (1992). “Distinguished Fellow: Mincering Labor Economics.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 6, 157–170.Google Scholar
  27. Welch, and Finis. (1979). “Effects of Cohort Size on Earnings: The Baby Boom Babies’ Financial Bust.” Journal of Political Economy 87, S65–S98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Willis, and Robert J. (1986). “Wage Determinants: A Survey and Reinterpretation of Human Capital Earnings Functions.” in Orley Ashenfelter and Richard Layard (eds.), Handbook of Labor Economics, Amsterdam: North-Holland, pp. 525–602.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Lemieux
    • 1
  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaCanada

Personalised recommendations