Is the government right to raise the school (or training) leaving age to 18?
The dull functional utilitarian argument is that increasing education will increase earnings. But this new paper suggests this effect could be small.
It looked at the effect of the rise in the UK school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1947. And it found that the impact this had upon wages was modest. it increased men's wages by 5-6%, and had no noticeable effect on women's wages.
The reason for this is simple. The sort of people who wanted to leave school at 14 were, in many cases, the sort who figured rightly that they wouldn't gain much from the extra year at school anyway. So forcing them to stay had low pay-offs.
So, why should things be different today? The argument that the returns to education generally are higher than they were a few decades ago doesn't wash. The problem is that students should be aware of this, and those for whom it is true should be staying on in school anyway. And if they are not doing so - say because of poor family finances - the solution is to raise EMAs, not introduce complusion.
Another argument is that 16-year-olds won't be compelled to stay in school, but merely some type of training.
The problem with this, though, is that returns to lower-level vocational qualifications - NVQ levels 1 and 2 - are actually negative (pdf) now. A lot of training doesn't pay.
So, is there really hard empirical evidence to justify depriving teenagers of their liberty? This study (pdf) doesn't convince me, as I argued here. So where is the evidence?