Effects of cohort size on college premium: Evidence from China's higher education expansion

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6 Scopus citations


In this paper, we document the lesser-known heterogeneous trends of college/non-college earnings premium across age groups from 1995 to 2013 in China. Specifically, the college premium in 2013 for the younger group (age 25–34) was about 30 percentage points, similar to the level in 1995, while the college premium in 2013 for the older group (age 45–54) increased to 50 percentage points, nearly double that of 1995. To attribute these divergent trends of the college premium to the changes in the relative size of college workers, we use the model by Card and Lemieux (2001), which incorporates imperfect substitution between similarly educated workers in different age cohorts. Due to the distinctions of these trends in China, our identification is free of the overestimation issue that the existing studies suffer. Our results are similar to those in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Japan. Holding the age cohort and survey year constant, a one unit increase in log relative size of college workers is associated with about 10 percentage points decrease in college/non-college premium and about 18 percentage points decrease in college/high school premium. We further find that the negative effect is much more substantial among the new entrants (age 25–29) than experienced workers (age 30–54). By this pattern, we demonstrate that the new labor market entrants are more sensitive to their own cohort size and argue that the confounding ability composition effect should not be a serious issue.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101700
JournalChina Economic Review
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Cohort size effect
  • College premium
  • Imperfect substitution
  • Trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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