Signalling and human capital

Steven Schwartz had an interesting argument in the AFR today:

As degrees become more common, their filtering value decreases. When everyone has one, a bachelor’s degree will confer no social distinction at all. At that point, a new filter will become necessary. So get ready for a massive growth in master’s degrees. (Remember, you read it here first.)
It is not too late to reconsider whether another round of degree inflation is really what Australia needs. Some graduates (dentists, for example) leave university with employment skills. For the rest, most university education is not a good fit with the world of work. (Just ask employers.)

But …

Higher education confers many valuable gifts. It broadens horizons, introduces students to new ideas and concepts, helps them to appreciate and respect scholarship and, when it works well, induces in students a love of learning. But higher education is not a useful ticket for employment. It does not reflect the possession of work-related skills and it does not guarantee graduates will make more money than plumbers.

I agree with almost everything he said in that op-ed.

But I did disagree with this (emphasis added):

If it is skills that matter, skin colour, sex, parental education or the prestige of one’s university should not affect a graduate’s job prospects or salary.

Yet, they clearly do. Employers prefer applicants from certain social groups and backgrounds. A university degree is another social distinction much like race or sex. It is not the skills learned at university that count; all that matters is that a job applicant has a degree (preferably from a prestigious university). In other words, higher education has become an expensive form of job filtering.

No, Steven no.

He is describing a signalling theory. Now employers don’t want, say, white people or males or females (as the case may be) per se. Employers want an employee who will do the job of work that needs doing. Signalling theory suggests that outside observers cannot identify the characteristic they desire with precision, so they chose characteristics that are highly correlated with the desired characteristic. So not some ‘social’ or class theory but imperfect correlation. Having parents who are professionals, or having gone to a prestigious university, for example, probably points to having a highly developed work ethic.

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96 Responses to Signalling and human capital

  1. James In Footscray

    I’m not sure I agree with Steven Schwartz that we are ‘reading it here first’.

    In lots of fields the accepted qualification used to be diplomas, which became degrees, then postgrad diplomas, and now it’s MAs. And there are lots of dodgy MAs so there’ll probably be something else soon.

    Haven’t we known this for years?

  2. entropy

    As for the signalling, very important, in the environment where the signals matter. it is entirely possible it can be counterproductive though. I was interviewing a graduate once, and afterwards remarked to one of the other interviewers that the tie he was wearing looked like a school tie. He laughed, and said that yes, it was. A tie from the certain prestigious Brisbane school.

    I laughed. A Lot. But I still gave him the job, as he played rugby.

  3. Walter Plinge

    James Taranto has covered this issue a few times in Best Of The Web Today.

    What accounts for the increasing insistence on college degrees as a prerequisite for entry-level professional jobs? Ms Ehrenreich offers this theory: “Employers prefer college grads because they see a college degree chiefly as mark of one’s ability to obey and conform.”

    To a nonconformist dropout like me this explanation is emotionally appealing. But I think it’s bunk. For one thing not all white-collar jobs require obedience and conformity. Some employers prize creativity and enterprise — but even they do not generally go out of their way to hire people without degrees. For another, it’s hard to believe that employers today value the “ability to obey and conform” twice as highly as they did in the era of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.”

    I have a better theory. I blame the Supreme Court…

    What most professional jobs require is basic intellectual aptitude. For a prospective employee obtaining a college degree is a very expensive way of showing that he has, in effect, passed an IQ test.
    .

    [ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117945362625607139.html?mod=wsj_share_tweet ]

  4. JC

    Walter

    Apart from that and particularity in the US a college degree acts as a signal to potential employers about an individual’s IQ as a result of the SAT (primarily).

    The SAT entry requirements are generally known so you can estimate smarts.

    So it basically acts as an expensive IQ test for employers in a way.

  5. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Signalling theory. An interesting concept if we unpack what is being signalled. A work ethic, an intellectual aptitude, a membership of a cultural club, a set of contacts etc. – all coming from attending particular schools and universities.

    But I always remember that 7-Up Series, where the ‘frightfully frighfully’ chap, when adult and able to put his viewpoint, got rather annoyed, and rightly so. The assumption was that the above list of valeus was all that his elite education provided. He pointed out that he had worked very hard for long hours at difficult things in order to qualify. Employers like elite education because it can still signal some very useful curricula and standards have been applied. Depends on the area and under the Gramsci-Gonski regimes current, this is of course becoming increasingly less so.

  6. johanna

    The whole ramping-up of formal qualifications is nothing new. It starts in the school system, where the leaving age is being continually raised and the HSC is now required for entry level clerical jobs (at a minimum).

    I don’t agree that employers will behave as he predicts, BTW. A Masters or even a PhD (shudder) from certain so-called universities is so much toilet paper.

    When I was hiring grads, I looked at the university and the faculty. A decent pass or honours bachelor degree from a proper university (excluding certain mickey mouse faculties) was plenty, everything else being equal. So, signalling exists (isn’t that what selection is all about?) but not in the way he suggests.

    Also, there is a serious downside to the ramping-up syndrome. People remain childlike and dependent, while running up debts, instead of getting into the workforce, earning money and acquiring marketable skills.

  7. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    oops – values.

    The values are about ‘character’ and ‘milieu’. Then there is sheer knowledge and intellectual power.

  8. .

    Employers like elite education because it can still signal some very useful curricula and standards have been applied.

    Latin? Fuck off.

  9. .

    When I was hiring grads, I looked at the university and the faculty. A decent pass or honours bachelor degree from a proper university (excluding certain mickey mouse faculties) was plenty, everything else being equa

    Dude.

    You know what happened to the U Syd econ faculty, dontcha?

  10. Jarrah

    I think Schwartz is talking about two different things, Sinclair. There’s the proxy evidence of capability, or signalling, and then there’s the unconscious preference for people similar to yourself.

  11. wreckage

    The problem with overqualification is also that people end up spending 4 years of undergraduate study in order to learn to clean toilets at the minimum wage.

  12. JC

    Having parents who are professionals, or having gone to a prestigious university, for example, probably points to having a highly developed work ethic.

    Yep absolutely. It also acts as a filter against those with a sense of entitlement at the very beginning of a work career.

    I think the word signaling is useful, but so is filtering in this context as you’re looking for and doing both.

  13. .

    Having parents who are professionals, or having gone to a prestigious university, for example, probably points to having a highly developed work ethic.

    Bullshit. Who fails at Harvard? They have bought their golden ticket through years of tiger mummery. Everyone gets an A!

    The only people I trust as having a worthy track record now work in sales. “It’s fuck or walk”. Ergo, they have the best work habits of all – including the protestant work ethic.

  14. johanna

    Yes, I do know what happened to the Sydney Uni Economics faculty. Mind you, that didn’t mean that all their grads were useless. I always asked for transcripts. Those who specialised in stuff involving lots of numbers could still get a job with me, if they were otherwise OK.

  15. Rodney

    Schwartz is talking rubbish. University conveys on the graduate a sense of superiority, a contempt for the practical and a total indifference to the cost of implementation.
    This is ideal for public service but disastrous anywhere else.

    It takes years for a graduate to recover from universityism and become a useful human being.

  16. JC

    Yes, I do know what happened to the Sydney Uni Economics faculty

    What happened.

  17. JC

    Just mention one thing that’s going on in the US or people outside of the country that want to get their kids into elite US universities.

    People spend perhaps 100K or more on SAT coaching and essay writing assistance.

    I think from memory, SAT perfect is 2400. Coaching can purportedly improve the result by 300 points which is material and can mean the difference between getting a place or not.

    Essay writing is so carefully edited that it looks quasi professional.

    There are also college advisers who direct and assist the family to gain entry to a school.

    You can spend upwards of 100k in fact and know of someone who did that and their kid is at an Ivy League.

  18. Jarrah

    “Those who specialised in stuff involving lots of numbers could still get a job with me, if they were otherwise OK.”

    What kind of work were they doing, if you don’t mind me asking? Don’t want personal details, just generalities.

  19. johanna

    They got taken over by the Political Economy crowd – but some good teachers remained.

  20. Jim Rose

    see http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/03/table_of_conten.html for bryan caplan’s book in progress, The Case Against Education.

    Table of Contents
    Introduction
    Chapter 1: The Magic of Education
    Chapter 2: Useless Studies with Big Payoffs: The Puzzle Is Real
    Chapter 3: Signaling Explained
    Chapter 4: Measuring Signaling
    Chapter 5: Who Cares If It’s Signaling? The Private, Familial, and Social Returns to Education
    Chapter 6: Is Education Good for the Soul?
    Chapter 7: We Need Lots Less Education
    Chapter 8: We Need More Vocational Education
    Conclusion

    basic plot:

    The labor market heavily rewards educational credentials even though academic curriculum is seriously disconnected from the jobs people actually do. The best explanation for this strange fact is that education is a strong signal of pre-existing worker productivity.

  21. johanna

    Jarrah, statistical analysis, market analysis, regulatory impacts – that kind of thing.

  22. Jim Rose

    see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpk_u_VmPD4 for The Case Against Education – Bryan Caplan – 71 minutes

  23. JC

    The labor market heavily rewards educational credentials even though academic curriculum is seriously disconnected from the jobs people actually do.

    And what if it is, Jim. Education should be about education, not if the HR department of BHP approves certain parts of the curriculum.

    I think people worry too much about what employers want as against what should education actually be about.

  24. Jim Rose

    University diplomas and grades have no signalling value in Japan because everyone who passes the really tough university entrance exam passes all subjects with an A!

    The last year of undergraduate study is spent mostly sitting tough entrance exams that employers administer because they know university grades are of no value as employer information. Entrance to a high prestige university is taken as evidence of quality, but the workplace entrance exam still must be passed.

    Because grades matter little, students slack off a lot because the value of whatever skills they acquire is not immediately recognised. Truancy among Japanese university students is extremely high. What is there to lose if grades do not matter?

    Takes the pressure of professors too! They put their feet up. A number of Japanese courses give 50%+ of all marks just for class attendance. 100% of marks just for class attendance are not unknown.

    In a manner inconsistent with the human capital model, students do not work hard as a way of honing their skills for the employer exams.

    In a manner consistent with signalling, grades are no longer available to signal traits such as conscientiousness so why work hard?

    Japanese high school students work hard and attend cramming school to prepare for entrance exams at age 13 and for university. This is consistent with the human capital model. The skills acquired at high school have value so students work hard.

  25. Jim Rose

    Jc, Barzun saw the university as designed to open and expand minds – for the transmission of wisdom from the past. One of the worst barbarians at the gate, in his mind, was the pressure to reshape universities into places to learn a vocation.

  26. .

    Fuck me.

    Now wonder the Yakuza is a popular option. Less stressful. I bet more children die every year due to schooling pressures than do Yakuza members and associates because of criminally related murders.

    I checked and it seems about equal.

  27. .

    Well Jim

    I think they should be destroyed and then left alone.

    Make them more vocational – but leave them the hell alone after that.

  28. entropy


    The labor market heavily rewards educational credentials even though academic curriculum is seriously disconnected from the jobs people actually do.

    I think it might have been three years after leaving uni that I realised I had never used my lecture notes. And another two years to have the courage to turf them.

  29. So get ready for a massive growth in master’s degrees. (Remember, you read it here first.)

    No, I didn’t.

    Call it credential inflation. Once derided as the consolation prize for failing to finish a Ph.D. or just a way to kill time waiting out economic downturns, the master’s is now the fastest-growing degree. The number awarded, about 657,000 in 2009, has more than doubled since the 1980s, and the rate of increase has quickened substantially in the last couple of years, says Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. Nearly 2 in 25 people age 25 and over have a master’s, about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s or higher in 1960.

    Several years ago it became very clear to us that master’s education was moving very rapidly to become the entry degree in many professions,” Dr. Stewart says.

  30. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    “I laughed. A Lot. But I still gave him the job, as he played rugby.”

    Love yer work entropy. :)

    One had three primary measures:

    1. A Catholic education (Marist Bros focused on their place in society and on their responsibility to it; Jesuits were disciplined and so on) followed by decent results at a proper university. Sydney had the best engineering graduates and lawyers and Melbourne too. UNSW (except for a narrow group of young architects) and Macquarie didn’t get a look in.

    Back then UQ turned out some outstanding medicos but not much of value in my fields, as I recall.

    2. Team sports – rugby, cricket, hockey, boxing? Tick. Long distance running? Nup. They were going to work with people to generate profit and I wanted to know if they could, and if they were tough enough to take a hiding and come back from it.

    3. What they did with their time apart from work. I wanted enquiring minds, those who studied history and such themselves, people from families who worked for a living or who helped out in the family business. It signified enterprise I suppose.

    If they were doing alright in the interview the final question was “Just how good are you? Tell me.” and some of them just shone when put on the spot! (I served on some public service selection committees as an independent and was amused at how that question completely upset their highly structured but useless format).

    I imagine such prejudice offends the fundamental human rights of the dim and indolent, under the superior, new, improved selection methods.

    “proxy evidence of capability”, “signalling theory”, “human capital”? Never heard of the first two and the third is – ummmm – a simplified word for “people”. I think.

  31. Master’s is the New Bachelor’s Degree
    There was a time when an undergraduate degree opened doors. In today’s competitive market, a master’s will set you apart.

    Bachelor’s degree: Has it lost its edge and its value?
    Undervalued and overpriced, the beleaguered bachelor’s degree is losing its edge as the hallmark of an educated, readily employable American.

    Just sayin’.

  32. See also any number of Glenn Reynolds (“Instapundit”) blurbs on the rising credentialism. Another interesting related read is his book speculating on The Higher Education Bubble.

  33. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    “I think people worry too much about what employers want as against what should education actually be about.”

    and

    “Barzun saw the university as designed to open and expand minds – for the transmission of wisdom from the past”

    These are notions with which I agree – I want them to turn out graduates who know how to research, assimilate, objectively analyse and then present and substantiate their findings.

    Oh, and to understand why these things are important.

  34. Harold

    Thread would be incomplete without mention of “cultural fit”. In a lot of work environments there’s a social camaraderie and the prospective employee will be measured against it. Do you support a footy team? Will you join Friday night drinks? Will you understand the office clown’s jokes?

    Private school educated people will relate better to other private school educated people. And if there ever was a kid from Geelong Grammar who wanted to take up an apprenticeship he’d likely find his CV being binned too.

    My theory: A lot of jobs are easy – even professional (‘professionalism’ is a crock) – so skills and ability aren’t a big deal, for those jobs. As long as you aren’t a tard or a crim you pass the skills test and it will come down to the other stuff.

    Does being a lefty help you get a job at the ABC? (that can work as a substitute for “is the Pope Catholic?”)

  35. mondo

    Little mention above of PhDs.

    In the industry that I spent a career in, a PhD degree identified someone who didn’t really know what he (not she in my experience) wanted to do with his life, who found university a comfortable environment, and who was happy to hang around in that environment until age 30 or so.

    Anybody applying for a job with a PhD had a very hard time overcoming the barriers to entry. Not just because of the above, but also because experience in hiring PhDs found that they were generally people who knew an awful lot about very little, people who weren’t practical, or who had accumulated very little useful life experience. How many PhD graduates, for example, owned their own house?

    Much preferred were those who had a BSc or BEng who had gained work experience through university, had graduated at 21 or 22, and who had accumulated nearly ten years of solid work experience by the time our PhD guy even tried to get a job in industry.

    Of course there were exceptions. But generally those were folk who fitted the latter profile, who had gone back to university to study a particular aspect of their industry that interested them greatly.

    It is no accident in my view that the climate change grants industry is one where PhDs thrive!

    So if signalling theory is relevant here, a PhD degree was generally a signal to an employer to be very careful about an applicant with a PhD.

  36. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    “Of course there were exceptions. But generally those were folk who fitted the latter profile, who had gone back to university to study a particular aspect of their industry that interested them greatly.”

    I came across one of these types recently, a rare one as you correctly point out, who held a very senior role in a state government. After graduating young he’d taken an interest on the job in a particular type of bridge construction, went back to do his doctorate on that and consequently improved how the design was implemented.

    Even decades later, after being booted up to the top, he retained a terrific enthusiasm for his engineering work and an interest in practical applications.

  37. Abu Chowdah

    Haven’t we known this for years?

    Yes, of course. If he thinks it’s a new observation, he has his hand on his cock.

  38. Abu Chowdah

    Jc, Barzun saw the university as designed to open and expand minds – for the transmission of wisdom from the past. One of the worst barbarians at the gate, in his mind, was the pressure to reshape universities into places to learn a vocation.

    He was right. Universities should be for the humanities and hard science. (Not including gender and cultural studies, which are shit).

    Law, medicine, engineering, agriculture and IT should be taught elsewhere.

  39. Abu Chowdah

    Much preferred were those who had a BSc or BEng who had gained work experience through university, had graduated at 21 or 22, and who had accumulated nearly ten years of solid work experience by the time our PhD guy even tried to get a job in industry.

    I agree on early PhD candidates.

    But regarding BSc and BEng types… I work on the expat scene in far flung locales with various Euro types and Brits (communications, oil, military, major building projects). A constant gripe is the need to put such graduates through courses to give them writing skills to make what they know useful to the businesses.

  40. Samuel J

    It’s not grade inflation, but grade compression. If it were inflation there would be ever more higher degrees (above a PhD). Instead we still have the PhD at the higher level with more people undertaking PhDs than in the past.

  41. johanna

    Samuel J, that would be true except that until recently only 5-10% of students went to university, and a small fraction of 1% got PhDs.

    Now we have places that have standards that good TAFEs in the past would scorn handing out PhDs for things like ‘gender studies’ and ‘cultural studies.’ They consist of interviewing your friends and associates, throwing in a few contemporary cliches – and bingo! You’re a PhD!

    That’s why, as I said above, a decent Bachelor’s degree from some universities is worth more than a PhD from others.

  42. Samuel J

    You can even get a Bachelor of Circus Arts (see here).

  43. Tel

    Chapter 7: We Need Lots Less Education

    What we need is more diversity of education, and individual choices coming back into play. The State has rooted us with a “one size fits all” model.

    Also, I think there’s an awful lot of companies where the managers have difficulty evaluating what the staff even do, and there’s a bunch of reasons for that, including the fact that they hired based on a signal model.

  44. Tel

    A constant gripe is the need to put such graduates through courses to give them writing skills to make what they know useful to the businesses.

    I think if you teach enough people to read, you will find more enthusiasm about writing.

  45. dover_beach

    A lot of the necessary work needs to be done at the secondary level. The Year 12 leaving certificate should mean more; employers should be able to trust the quality of those that have successfully completed them. There should be a Year 10 leaving certificate. Students that complete this should be able to use that to gain entry to courses at TAFEs. Every thing aside from arts, law, medicine, and sciences should be undertaken at polytechnics; TAFE should in fact be merged into these new institutions. And the number of students completing degrees at uni should be halved at the least. This half of students are really only deferring the ordeal of adulthood and they are ruining the intellectual experience of students for the rest of the students.

  46. min

    Haven’t times changed 60 years ago after obtaining a B. Com. Melbourne my husband got a job with Coles . As the first graduate they employed he started in a store as a trainee manager which included cleaning the toilets. He rose thru thru company very quickly and soon outgrew the company

  47. Token

    http://yobbo.wordpress.com/2004/06/10/universities-to-blame-for-credentialism/

    2004

    I have nt bothered to comment too much on this thread as your statement says it all. This has been a problem for years.

    In my industry you need a post grad to even be considered for base level job.

    It is nothing more than a signal to the recruiting firms who filter applicants but do not understand the role they are hireing for.

    As Glen Reynolds notes at Instapundit the Tertiary sector will be going through shocks in the next 10 years as more and more people gather applied knowledge via the interweb/on-line learning.

  48. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Latin? Fuck off.

    Dot:

    Braccae tuae aperiunter.
    Die dulci fruimini.

    Mick:

    Love your work.

  49. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    Why thank you Elizabeth, I did enjoy myself here yesterday.

    I’ll miss the fun today though for serious endeavour – messy trucks, noisy concrete, and amused blokes with plenty to say for themselves who will finish it off with the finesse of cake decorators.

  50. brc

    You can spend upwards of 100k in fact and know of someone who did that and their kid is at an Ivy League.

    Throw in the other few hundred K on tuition and you seriously have to be wondering whether that is a worthwhile investment?

    Sure, I know the top ivy league-ers can go on to seriously high incomes, but I wonder how much of this is parental preening ‘my son goes to Harvard’ and how much is worthwhile investment in the future of the student.

  51. .

    What we have learned today:

    If you learn to speak latin, get excellent results before everyone gets an A, drink a lot, play rugby union, do a trade, eschew postgraduate education, have a private education and own your own home, you’ll be a great employee.

    I’m sure job seekers will find this information immeasurably useful.

  52. brc

    If you learn to speak latin, get excellent results before everyone gets an A, drink a lot, play rugby union, do a trade, eschew postgraduate education, have a private education and own your own home, you’ll be a great employee.

    I took the liberty of striking out the qualifications that don’t apply in my case. I guess I’m just not employee material.

  53. ““Just how good are you? Tell me.”

    As an Aussie kid growing up in country towns, this is the most feared interview question. To speak even vaguely positive of oneself was to invite a punch to the face “to see how good you really were”. Such a strong cultural trait is very hard to overcome. Maybe elite private school boys didn’t have that problem? Just wonderin’…

  54. .

    Indeed.

    I’m like an immigrant in that regard.

    I wrote down my quals and achievements on my CV.

    If you want a backslapping “love yourself” session, bugger off and watch Oprah.

  55. .

    Having parents who are professionals, or having gone to a prestigious university, for example, probably points to having a highly developed work ethic.

    I hope everything turns out great for Davdison family, but this says as much about the aspirations you have for your kids as it does about what employers actually think, Sinclair.

    Work ethic?

    Become a construction manager either through the trades or engineering profession.

  56. “What we have learned today:
    If you learn to speak latin, get excellent results before everyone gets an A, drink a lot, play rugby union,”

    I make point of not mentioning I prefer rugby league as bosses tend to be rugby union fans. It’s the proverbial home with a swimming pool – popular for those who want one but a no-go for everyone else.

  57. Leigh Lowe

    After graduating young he’d taken an interest on the job in a particular type of bridge construction

    Yeah …. but you can build a thousand bridges and no-one ever calls you “the bridge builder”. However, just once in flagrante delicto cum capram ……

    (Sorry ’bout the Latin for those without a classical education)

  58. .

    Seriously.

    If you are watching kids, get a pure maths degree.

    It truly seperates the wheat from the chaff. It is the world’s greatest combine harvester.

    Want to be a rich trader?

    These days, you need to be a quant.

  59. Splatacrobat

    The only people I trust as having a worthy track record now work in sales. “It’s fuck or walk”. Ergo, they have the best work habits of all – including the protestant work ethic.

    Too true Dot. I have worked in sales for over 20 years after doing a trade. Every year has been a tightrope of performance measured by sales, profit, cost center management, and a host of other KPI’s at the whim of the owners.

    The good continue, the useless are weeded out, and the mediocre leave (by mutual agreement is the term often used).

    I once worked for an international industrial company for over 16 years and they went through a phase of only promoting people who had degrees. Invarably they ended up pissing off most of they loyal workers by promoting grads as Managers through a grad program.

    Having someone who was not even born the first time I learnt the difference between gross profit and gross margin try and tell me mark up % is the same as gross margin % was a very illuminating lesson on the value of a degree.

  60. .

    Having someone who was not even born the first time I learnt the difference between gross profit and gross margin try and tell me mark up % is the same as gross margin % was a very illuminating lesson on the value of a degree.

    Ugh. I am one of those poor bastards who is suffering from degree inflation. Stupid people are ruining my human capital.

  61. Indolent

    The problem with education is that bridge building is valued more than buiding bridges

  62. Jim Rose

    Bryan Caplan also points out that education signals desirable employee traits: intelligence, conscientiousness, conformity and a willingness to learn boring things. I think this is valuable new information unobtainable elsewhere.

    The trouble is you do this by winning a race. Many try to win by lengthening the race by spending more time at university such as taking Master’s degrees etc.

    Grades and degrees do not signal anything in Japan because everyone graduates with an A. Students are lazy because everyone is placed first. Japanese grades signal little in the way of conscientiousness and conformity. Getting into a top Japanese university signals intelligence by passing the entrance exam.

    Few go to graduate school in Japan, preferring to learn more on the job.

  63. johanna

    Hey, no dissing Latin!

    I did five years of Latin in high school. There were five people in the class – superb student/teacher ratio.

    One became a wealthy lawyer, one became a GP, one became a multi-millionaire businessman (domestic satellite dishes), one I don’t know about, plus me.

    Studying Latin is the reason I can write a vaguely grammatical sentence, as grammar was on the way out when I was at school. It also meant discovering that not every culture sees things the same way. Oh, and there’s some great literature, including seriously erotic poetry, to be enjoyed.

    No-one who appreciates classical Latin literature could regard 50 Shades of Grey, or anything by Bryce Courtney, as good writing.

  64. Jim Rose

    johanna, Caplan discussed Latin at http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/01/the_case_agains_5.html

    Educational psychologist found that Latin does not help in studying other subjects. They have looked at the transfer of learning for 100 years.

    there are no significant differences in deductive and inductive reasoning or text comprehension among students with 4 years of Latin, 2 years of Latin, and no Latin at all.

    People who do Latin might be naturally gifted at languages. I am not gifted in the grammar of any language – especially spelling

  65. johanna

    Jim, you are accusing me of something I never said.

    My point was that studying Latin was rewarding educationally and that my little Latin class were high achievers in later life, across a broad spectrum.

    Are you Caplan’s brother, or agent, or something?

  66. Harold

    Anyone learning Latin must be from a fairly upper class home i.e. born into wealth and opportunity.

  67. Pete of Perth

    I finished my BSc in 1985 and got my first job by phoning commercial labs listed in the yellow pages. Started at the bottom as a lab rat learning on the job. I am now in my sixth job, still at the bench which I enjoy. During this time, the only questions asked about my uni ed was what discipline did I study.

    My brother did a PhD (1st in the family) and works as a research associate in a university. Like most of us from time to time he wants a change but has realised that the worth of his qualifications is alot less outside the constrained halls of academia. I think he is offended by this lack of recognition of his obvious superior intelligence signalled by his PhD. Poor bugger, no where to go but stay within the academic bubble to maintian his income. To be fair his work does have an impact on state gov policy. He says at least his work has some relevance in the community which is better than writing endless papers on the publish or perish merry-go-round.

    I am glad I left uni when I did.

  68. Jim Rose

    johanna, thanks for the correction. sorry if I misunderstood.

  69. Jim Rose

    see http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/03/education-isnt.html for Tyler cowen’s view.

    education is mainly about indoctrination to give you more productive habits. So yes it is learning, but not in the way they might have told you, and that is why it so often does not feel like learning.

  70. johanna

    Harold, my parents were migrants who didn’t own their own home till I was in the final year of high school. I went to a non-selective government school.

    Sorry to disillusion you, but even kids from non-English speaking backgrounds and poor families can enjoy, and gain benefit from, studying Latin.

  71. Harold

    What schools offer Latin as an elective Johanna?

    Frankston Secondary?

  72. johanna

    Harold, I went to school a long time ago. I have no idea what electives are being offered, or where, these days.

    My point was about the merits of studying Latin, irrespective of what the current electives are at Frankston Secondary. I also pointed out that a person does not have to be from a privileged background to appreciate and benefit from it.

    Please don’t put words into my mouth.

  73. Jannie

    Jim Rose, quoting an ‘Education psychologist’ does not inspire much confidence. I would never employ somebody stupid enough to admit to studying that sort of demonstrable nonsense. Not even at basic wage work.

  74. linecall

    In the US it is illegal to demand IQ/aptitude tests – racism. This is not so in the UK and Australia. One very strong signal we have here in Australia is the rigor of our universities’ 4th year Honors program. We place great emphasis on Honors results. Plus we make all applicants take an aptitude and skills test. This is especially important if you are recruiting outside the G8, or applicants from less analytically-demanding degrees.

  75. Jim Rose

    Studying Latin does not boost verbal or nonverbal IQ, math scores or native language performance.

    see http://www.ifvll.ethz.ch/people/sterne/haag_stern_2003.pdf

    Advocates of Latin as a school subject make 3 argument:

    First, Latin provides insights into the roots of Western culture.

    Second, broad transfer effects because learning Latin is thought to support the development of intelligent learning and reasoning strategies in formal domains such as mathematics and the sciences.

    Third, transfer effects to language competencies are expected.

  76. Jannie

    Jim, the argument about Latin may be interesting. But the mention of ‘educational psychologist’ sounds warning bells for me. These are the type of thinkers who condemned our children to endure idiocies such as ‘oucomes based education’ and ‘whole word recognition’. In my experience experts from the government are part of problem in education, not the solution.

  77. linecall

    Jim, I have to say, I can’t recall employing a graduate with degrees in Education or Psychology ever, but we tend to jump at Classics graduates. Maybe it’s self-selection.

  78. Splatacrobat

    People who do Latin might be naturally gifted at languages. I am not gifted in the grammar of any language – especially spelling.

    Same here, I’m a bilingual illiterate……I can’t read in two languages

  79. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    “Anyone learning Latin must be from a fairly upper class home i.e. born into wealth and opportunity.”

    and

    “What schools offer Latin as an elective Johanna?

    Frankston Secondary?”

    Bwahahahahaha!

    There was a time long, long ago – now doused in dust and cobwebs – when boofheads from inner western Sydney public schools could elect to do metalwork, woodwork, French or Latin. They were compelled to study english, history, mathematics and science (not like now, which is most of the reason why high schoolers in the new, improved world reach the end illiterate and innumerate).

    Anyhow, we studied what we were told even though our focus was to become a first grade union or league player, with a day job that did not interfere with that goal.

    johanna – I chose French and Latin and saw much the same joy as you have outlined. The studies cited here suggesting “Latin? No big deal!” didn’t survey me – 10 years after high school I found myself reading, writing and speaking French (well before travelling overseas) and subsequently readily picking up basic Italian, Spanish and Portugese.

    My limited survey tells me Latin made that possible.

    It became infinitely more valuable when Mrs Mick selected me ‘cos she’s half Spanish.

    I am ashamed to admit I never made first grade in either code. (:

  80. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    I have little Latin and even less Greek.

    I had a Latin teacher who adored my blue eyes and I was his best pupil by far: duck to water with it, the sheer logic of it, the rhetoric, the beauty.
    I loved Latin for the very short time I did it. It changed me.

    Self-taught in Latin and lots else since then.

    Johanna, one doesn’t enjoy Fifty Shades of Grey for its writing.

  81. Andrew

    As degrees become more common, their filtering value decreases

    Somewhat true. Only 25% of Australians have a bachelor’s degree or above that qualification. Two things will happen in the future. Either more people will attain bachelor’s degrees or the qualification to get a degree will be lifted.

    Having parents who are professionals, or having gone to a prestigious university, for example, probably points to having a highly developed work ethic

    Disagree. Having parents who are professionals or having gone to a prestigious university more likely indicates that the parents are quite wealthy and have sent their kids to a wealthy school with excellent teachers, a great learning environment and tutors on board who supplement the students’ education. True work ethic generally does not belong to students that belong in that category but rather those who live in less wealthy areas, who do not have an ideal learning environment at school and do not have tutors always present supplementing their learning. This is because those ‘rich kids’ are reliant on factors that they can’t control to succeed and achieve great marks. On the other hand, this is not the case for the other students therefore a work ethic is required.

    Through my own observation, the skills (or lack thereof) developed at a young age are the determining factor of someone who will or will not be a good employee.

  82. Jim Rose

    Through my own observation, the skills (or lack thereof) developed at a young age are the determining factor of someone who will or will not be a good employee

    heckman also stressed the returns on investments in early childhood development.

    if it is all decided by the time you are 18 or well before, why go to uni? signal you had a good childhood?

  83. Andrew

    if it is all decided by the time you are 18 or well before, why go to uni? signal you had a good childhood?

    It isn’t all decided by the time you go to university but you gain the discipline and the work ethic before you go to university. You either have it before then or you don’t have it. You go to university to gain qualifications for a particular area and gain knowledge in that area.

  84. Jarrah

    “Third, transfer effects to language competencies are expected.”

    It certainly helps with having a more structured understanding of English (as does study of living Romance languages). A prestigious academic friend of the family (now aged 69) learned Latin in high school, and would annihilate everyone in the dictionary game played at Christmas gatherings and the like. You just couldn’t fool him when it came to the meaning of even obscure English words. Come to think of it, especially obscure English words.

    OK, so not very useful, and totally irrelevant to his field of expertise, but still impressive.

  85. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    “True work ethic generally does not belong to students that belong in that category but rather those who live in less wealthy areas, who do not have an ideal learning environment at school and do not have tutors always present …”

    What a lovely, heart warming story, straight out of the industrial psychologists’ lecture notes – Dad as a weary boiler-maker in Irish Town, denying himself university so he could manage a local band to bring in some extra, clerking at Elcom, Parliament and then onto the PM’s job (1990).

    Or a layabout smoking dope with haters, uncertain who father is ‘cos mum was a bit popular, equal opportunitied through school and university (no record of attendance), suddenly $300,000 pa “organising communities”, then Senatorised and onto …

    I can introduce you to three – no, four engineering project managers from Durban, Italian Somaliland, Cape Town and Johannesburg here on the Gold Coast, with the best degrees their wealthy families could afford whose work ethic would make your knees buckle and your eyes bleed.

    The factor they could not control was whether they may have to pull out the gun when they were at home studying.

    Comparatively, their Irish counterparts from struggle street (there were lots here when the desalination plant was built) were generally unreliable, unprofessional, shonky and untrustworthy. They were most often on the dodge looking for the quick and easy solution.

    I could go on with examples of the confident attitude of the chiildren of wealthy Asians, who dare not ease off the pace.

    I say your contention is fanciful.

  86. .

    heckman also stressed the returns on investments in early childhood development.

    if it is all decided by the time you are 18 or well before, why go to uni? signal you had a good childhood?

    Hence my earlier cynicism.

    Mick, the children of migrants go to university, and some are successful. If private education is the key to a great work ethic (despite being nothing like having a job), then it is foolish not to match it up with a rigourous enlightenment or aptitude testing of applicants.

    I give you Nicola Roxon as an example.

    Remember what the German General von Manstein said in his famous military manual about the third of four types of different officers?

    Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once.

  87. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    Look Dot – I do remember, von Manstein and his famous concerto always comes to mind late on Tuesdays :)

    I’ve had some fun here for a couple of days, especially reading how bloody complex and structured people selection has become, and unecessarily so.

    I looked back and remembered I’d noted your comments earlier in the piece:

    “Work ethic?

    Become a construction manager either through the trades or engineering profession.”

    I spend each day around them and generally I agree, although our quality is dropping alarmingly fast. I have a view on why.

    “If you are watching kids, get a pure maths degree.

    It truly seperates the wheat from the chaff. It is the world’s greatest combine harvester.”

    I value the ones who go on with it in the sciences because too few do.

    At Sydney in the early ’70s I did a little pure maths for a term, probably because Dr Pat Apps was an attractive blonde. Well, she might as well have been speaking Swahili! She was brilliant and remained so for years but I pulled out ‘cos I couldn’t keep up and research, and stats wasn’t on my professional career target.

    I came away with an admiration of those who clicked swiftly onto the magical logic and applications. I maintained a career long interest in maths, thought it amazing that HP developed the 12C calculator then soon after the power of Lotus 123 and later Excel delighted me and I developed great expertise in them.

    “… there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once.”

    Fortunately I haven’t encountered many like that. When the projects must make a profit one doesn’t have the luxury of too many poor selection decisions. I think our simple, biased selection criteria – undisturbed by academic theory – served us well.

    “If private education is the key to a great work ethic …”

    I do not think it is. It is a handy guide if they’ve had it, valued the opportunity, used it well and mixed that with other things. I am not at all impressed with the plummeting worth of the public schools system.

  88. Dot, Field Marshall von Manstein reformulated Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke’s famous matrix. Whilst von Manstein made the matrix clearer, von Moltke really does deserve the credit…
    :)

  89. .

    More on this “kill yourself if you haven’t become the PM before you’re 19″ meme.

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/second-chances–life-lesson-more-important-than-hsc-20121217-2bjc8.html

    Yes I know its from the Silly Moaning Hilmer but these people basically flunked the HSC and now one is a crown prosecutor and the other is a medico.

    I guess they must be bad employees though.

  90. johanna

    One of the few advances in education policy in the last few decades is that people can get a shot at tertiary studies even if they blew the HSC, or never got that far. Not that long ago, if you didn’t do well in that one exam, you were effectively shut out for life.

    What’s more, we now have all these “allowances” like scribes and longer times for completing papers etc for students in “special circumstances.” Handy. I would hit my thumb with a hammer the week before the HSC if I wanted an advantage nowadays.

    What is weird is that, as the HSC has become less important, the media focus on how stressful it is for the poor darlings and their families has increased. Every year, we have finger-wagging social commenters and anguished students/families dribbling on about how brutal it all is.

    I guess that’s what happens when Special Snowflakes have mini Special Snowflakes.

  91. Jannie

    I did Latin for 5 years, and I have met very few people in Oz outside of my school mates, who ever did Latin. The number of posters here who studied Latin seems pretty high.

    Maybe studying Latin leads to a love of economics, ceteris paribus. Libertas supra omnia.

  92. johanna

    Mick, once again you bust the stereotype. That’s what I like about this blog.

    I can just imagine the latte-sippers seeing you around town, assuring each other that you are just another ignorant bogan. Heh, heh.

    It is like when I go (very occasionally) to fancy restuarants, and having been sized up as a nobody, put them through their paces in a way they will never forget.

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