Todd Schoellman

Senior Research Economist
Personal Website

Economic development

Todd Schoellman joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis as a senior research economist in 2018. Previously he was a Senior Scholar with the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute. He has been an assistant professor of economics at Clemson University and Arizona State University. He received a B.S. in economics from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University. His published work appears in the Review of Economic Studies, Journal of Political Economy, and Quarterly Journal of Economics, among other journals.

Life-Cycle Human Capital Accumulation Across Countries: Lessons from U.S. Immigrants

How much does life-cycle human capital accumulation vary across countries? This paper seeks to answer this question by studying U.S. immigrants, who come from a wide variety of countries but work in a common labor market. We document that returns to potential experience among U.S. immigrants are higher on average for workers coming from rich countries than for those coming from poor countries. To understand this fact we build a model of life-cycle human capital accumulation that features three potential theories, working respectively through cross-country differences in: selection, skill loss, and human capital accumulation. To distinguish between theories, we use new data on the characteristics of immigrants and non-migrants from a large set of countries. We conclude that the most likely theory is that immigrants from poor countries accumulate relatively less human capital in their birth countries before migrating. Our findings imply that life cycle human capital stocks are on average much larger in rich countries than poor countries.

Human Capital and Development Accounting: New Evidence from Immigrant Earnings

We use new data on the pre- and postmigration wages of immigrants to the United States to measure wage gains at migration. The average immigrant from a middle-income or poor country increases their wage by a factor of two to three upon migration. This wage gain is small relative to the underlying gap in GDP per worker. In a development accounting framework, this finding implies that switching countries accounts for 40% of cross-country income differences, while human capital accounts for 60%. Wage gains decline with education, consistent with imperfect substitution between skill types. We augment our analysis to allow for this possibility and bound the human capital share in development accounting to between one-half and two-thirds. We also provide results on the importance of premigration sector of employment, assimilation, and skill transfer.

Life Cycle Wage Growth across Countries

This paper documents how life cycle wage growth varies across countries. We harmonize repeated cross-sectional surveys from a set of countries of all income levels and then measure how wages rise with potential experience. Our main finding is that experience-wage profiles are on average twice as steep in rich countries as in poor countries. In addition, more educated workers have steeper profiles than the less educated; this accounts for around one-third of cross-country differences in aggregate profiles. Our findings are consistent with theories in which workers in poor countries accumulate less human capital or face greater search frictions over the life cycle.

Wages, Human Capital, and Barriers to Structural Transformation

We document for 13 countries ranging from rich (Canada, United States) to poor (India, Indonesia) that average wages are considerably lower in agriculture than in the other sectors. Moreover, agriculture has less educated workers and lower Mincer returns. We view these findings through the lens of a multi-sector model in which workers differ in observed and unobserved characteristics and sectors differ in their human-capital intensities. We derive expressions for the implied barriers to the reallocation of labor out of agriculture. We find that in our sample these barriers are considerably smaller than what the macro-development literature has argued.

Early Childhood Human Capital and Development

A growing literature stresses the importance of early childhood human capital. I ask whether variation in early childhood investments can help explain cross-country income differences. I provide new empirical evidence: the adult outcomes of refugees are independent of age at arrival to the United States up to age six, despite dramatic improvements in income and environment upon arrival. A standard model is consistent with this finding if parents but not country are important for early childhood development. This finding limits the mechanisms for generating cross-country early childhood human capital differences. I also provide suggestive evidence on parental inputs.

Why is Measured Productivity so Low in Agriculture?

In poor countries, labor productivity in agriculture is considerably lower than in the rest of the economy. We assess whether this well-known fact implies that labor is mis-allocated between the two sectors. We make several observations that suggest otherwise. First, the same fact holds for US states where severe mis-allocation is implausible. Second, the gaps between the marginal value products of agriculture and non-agriculture are considerably smaller when measured through wages than through labor productivities. Third, labor productivity in agriculture is severely mis-measured in the US.

Environmental Regulations and the Welfare Effects of Job Layoffs in the United States: A Spatial Approach

This article develops welfare-consistent measures of the employment effects of environmental regulation. Our analysis is based on a microeconomic model of how households with heterogeneous preferences and skills decide where to live and work. We use the model to examine how job loss and unemployment would affect workers in Northern California. Our stylized simulations produce earnings losses that are consistent with empirical evidence. They also produce two new insights. First, we find that earnings losses are sensitive to business cycle conditions. Second, we find that earnings losses may substantially understate welfare losses once we account for the fact that workers may have to commute further or live in a less desirable community after losing a job.

Student Abilities during the Expansion of US Education

The US experienced two dramatic changes in the structure of education in a 50 year period. The first was a large expansion of educational attainment; the second, an increase in test score gaps between college-bound and non-college-bound students. This paper documents the impact of these two trends on the composition of school groups by ability and the importance of these composition effects for wages. The main finding is that there is a growing gap between the abilities of high school and college-educated workers that accounts for one-half of the college wage premium for recent cohorts and for the entire rise of the college wage premium between the 1910 and 1960 birth cohorts.

Families as Roommates: Changes in U.S. Household Size from 1850 to 2000

Living arrangements have changed enormously over the last two centuries. While the average American today lives in a household of only three people, in 1850 household size was twice that figure. Furthermore, both the number of children and the number of adults in a household have fallen dramatically. We develop a simple theory of household size where living with others is beneficial solely because the costs of household public goods can be shared. In other words, we abstract from intrafamily relations and focus on households as collections of roommates. The model’s mechanism is that rising income leads to a falling expenditure share on household public goods, which endogenously makes household formation less beneficial and privacy more attractive. To assess the magnitude of this mechanism, we first calibrate the model to match the relationship between household size, consumption patterns, and income in the cross section at the end of the 20th century. We then project the model back to 1850 by changing income. We find that our proposed mechanism can account for 37 percent of the decline in the number of adults in a household between 1850 and 2000, and for 16 percent of the decline in the number of children.

Education Quality and Development Accounting

This paper measures the role of quality-adjusted years of schooling in accounting for cross-country output per worker differences. While data on years of schooling are readily available, data on education quality are not. I use the returns to schooling of foreign-educated immigrants in the U.S. to measure the education quality of their birth country. Immigrants from developed countries earn higher returns than do immigrants from developing countries. I show how to incorporate this measure of education quality into an otherwise standard development accounting exercise. The main result is that cross-country differences in education quality are roughly as important as cross-country differences in years of schooling in accounting for output per worker differences, raising the total contribution of education from 10% to 20% of output per worker differences.

The Occupations and Human Capital of U.S. Immigrants

This paper develops a model of comparative advantage in labor markets in which workers with heterogeneous skills choose the occupations that best use those skills. Application to immigration suggests that the occupational differences between U.S. natives and immigrants arise from human capital differences. This principle makes it possible to estimate the human capital endowments of immigrants along five dimensions, including cognitive ability and physical skills, which are difficult to measure directly. Counterfactual simulations describe the distributional implications of immigration for native wages.

Marriage Laws and Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

College Access and Attendance Patterns: A Long-Run View

We harmonize the results of 42 different data sets and studies dating back to the early 20th century to construct a time series of college attendance patterns for the United States. We find an important reversal around the time of World War II: before that time, family characteristics such as income were the better predictor of college attendance; afterwards, academic ability was the better predictor. We construct a model of college choice that can explain this reversal. The model’s central mechanism is an exogenous rise in the demand for college that leads better colleges to become oversubscribed. These colleges institute selective admissions and raise their quality relative to the remaining colleges, as in Hoxby (2009). Rising quality at better colleges attracts high-ability students, while falling quality at the remaining colleges dissuades low-ability students, generating the reversal.

Human Capital and Development Accounting: New Evidence from Wage Gains at Migration

We use new data on the pre- and post-migration wages of U.S. immigrants to measure the importance of human capital for development accounting. Wages increase at migration, but by less than half of the gap in GDP per worker. This finding implies that human capital accounts for a large share of cross-country income differences. Wage gains decline with education, consistent with imperfect substitution between skill types. We bound the human capital share in development accounting to between one-half and two-thirds; additional assumptions lead to an estimate of 60 percent. We also provide results on the importance of assimilation and skill transfer.