Keywords: I24 - Education and Inequality; J24 - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labour Productivity; Z13 - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Social and Economic Stratification.
Educational expansion has often been discussed in terms of possibly
declining returns to education. The theoretical debate provides arguments supporting
both expectations about declining and increasing returns. Declining returns would
not only menace individual investment strategies but also put under pressure the
merit based legitimisation of existing social inequalities. In this paper we empirically
investigate these changes over time.
In recent years, Italy has witnessed a strong increase in education participation
beyond compulsory schooling - though this country still lags behind most of Europe
regarding access to higher education. At the same time, the occupational structure
has not shown any noteworthy upward shift. We describe the trend in the association
between educational attainment and labour market outcomes in terms of employment
chances and occupational position based on national labour force survey data covering
the period from 1985 to 2010. Our results for men and women aged 30-39 show
a clear decline in the returns to education, in particular concerning those with an
upper secondary education. However, those with a university education have also seen
a worsening of their occupational condition, especially in recent years.