Pragya Nandini's Blog

The Dangers of Simplifying

While looking over some notes about the effects of education and economics, I came across two unfamiliar terms: ability bias, and signaling.

I googled these terms immediately and found an article discussing both.

The article which I found bothered me, but before I discuss that I will discuss what each term means.

Ability bias is the claim that people who go onto higher education do not earn more money than their counterparts because of their higher education. Instead people who choose to go onto higher education have higher IQs. Thus if hypothetically these people with higher IQs did not go onto college, they would still make more money than their counterparts. Essentially the point is that a person earns more money because they have a higher IQ, not because of the education they received in college or beyond.

In labor economics many people talk about signaling as a way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicants for a job. A degree, serves as a signal that a person essentially jumped through various hoops in order to prove their IQ. In other words a degree is a signal to employers that distinguishes you from other applicants because the degree proves your innate abilities.

In this article (found here: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2006/06/two_educational.html) I found that the author essentially made those points.

I find these arguments troubling to say the least.

I think both of these arguments are detrimental to Givology’s goal of spreading access to education in developing areas.

Here’s why,
The argument for the ability bias, to me is very dangerous. I see it as a correlation between how much someone earns to how intelligent someone is. I think that not only extremely simplifies why people are in poverty but it also leaves those not in poverty with a sense of comfort. It can lead people to think they reached their stages of comfort because they had the higher IQ, something innate. This thinking leaves many with the excuse to not help the disadvantaged, as though they are in their situations because they lack the necessary IQ. In reality educating those who are impoverished yields extremely high returns especially when people continue onto secondary education.

Now, no doubt I believe there is validity to ability bias at times. I feel that when we control for many factors such as level of wealth and the level of parent’s educational attainment, a case may be made that those who continue to higher realms of education do so because they have higher IQs.

Now my problem with signaling, as many economists claim a degree does, is that it in many ways de-emphasizes the importance of education. Education is not simply jumping through hoops in order to attain a degree and say “Pay more attention to me now.” Education is one of the greatest tools we have that can level the playing field across the world. It gives children across the globe the ability to leave their villages and compete on a global scale with the necessary skills. Education increases cognitive skills. It provides a sense of community, a challenging yet nurturing atmosphere. It helps us encourage not only core subjects such as math and reading comprehension, but also valuable life skills such as critical thinking.

Education matters. Arguments emphasizing innate ability and IQ simplify the world around us. Simplifying the world could lead to marginalizing the next Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Henry David Thoreau. These very people saw the complexity surrounding us, and they tried to better understand it.

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