The return to education in France?

Pierre Mouganie has a new paper:

In 1997, the French government put into effect a law that permanently exempted young French male citizens born after Jan 1, 1979 from mandatory military service while still requiring those born before that cutoff date to serve. This paper uses a regression discontinuity design to identify the effect of peacetime conscription on education and labor market outcomes. Results indicate that conscription eligibility induces a significant increase in years of education, which is consistent with conscription avoidance behavior. However, this increased education does not result in either an increase in graduation rates, or in employment and wages. Additional evidence shows conscription has no direct effect on earnings, suggesting that the returns to education induced by this policy was zero.

You should note of course that the “return to education you wish to do for non-draft-avoiding reasons” still may be positive or strongly positive.  Nonetheless this is an object lesson in the point that the goal is not to increase educational attainment per se, but rather good outcomes probably require “education plus some of the prerequisites and complements of education.”  The large number of unemployed engineers in some of the Arabic countries illustrate a related point.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.


It's bullshit that going to college gets you out of the draft. If you are going to have the draft, draft everyone.

"Nonetheless this is an object lesson in the point that the goal is not to increase educational attainment per se, but rather good outcomes probably require “education plus some of the prerequisites and complements of education.”

In other word, Peter Thiel is right.

When people talk about education and returns on education in the abstract, they're taking an indeterminate approach. This is even true when policy makers promote STEM.

@Cahokia--what is Thiel's view of education? Practical trade school knowledge is better than theoretical degree from college? Does he think self-selection is at work so people who go to college are naturally smarter than those that don't, ergo, it matters not that they went to college? (what does this say about the US with nearly universal college education?) Maybe you can educate us in a Twitter sized post.

I wonder, if you ran the same test on college attendance as draft avoidance in the 60s and early 70s in the US, if the same results would attain. How much of it is just France.

Angrist did exactly this and found a significant positive return to such "forced" education for US in the early 1970s.

Well, it improved returns to Canadian education. Two of my best professors at University of Toronto were draft dodgers from the U.S.

Has anyone run a test to calculate the returns on voluntary service for education benefits (i.e. Post Viet Nam-era GI Bill)?

It worked out quite well for me, but that's just an anecdote.

You would have to run a but for test: but for the payment, would you have attended college.

The returns to, eg, the Univ. of Phoenix, have been nothing short of remarkable.

Wisconsin (Engineering) and California (Business).


"Additional evidence shows conscription has no direct effect on earnings... ." I infer, then, that in France conscripts were paid market wages for the skills the conscripts had.
"...suggesting that the returns to education induced by this policy was zero." Why would anyone even think that conscription policy is a substitute for education policy? Might as well test the effect of the decriminalization of marijuana on the returns to education, or how about the effect of the mortgage interest deduction on road deaths, or church attendance, ... or consumption of cheese?

I think the puzzle piece you're missing here is that you did not get drafted if you were "in education" full time until a certain threshold age. You could use this regulatory loophole to avoid the draft entirely.

Is that cheese in the French or American sense?

If it prevents you from sustaining major injuries or death, is the return still zero?

We have a winner.

More French fisherman have died on the job than soldiers since 1979.

Arabic engineers...
This is anecdotal. Aramco in Saudi Arabia hire engineering graduates from Saudi universities as part of a Saudization scheme. Most hires require three years in-house training to get them to acceptable standard.

Other firms will hire Saudi engineers but only from known foreign universities.

There is no tuition in French universities. Registering is free and furthermore there is very little selection. I am not entirely sure, but I assume that the paper estimates the number of registration in higher education institutions. I know at least of some cases where people registered without attending a single class. This behaviour is totally consistent with the fact that the paper does not find any increase in graduation rates. I am not sure that I would make too much of the paper, except that it does show that people will use stratégies to avoid the draft.

Schoolingeducation. My grandparents went to school just one years but they were educated on the other hand some college grads seem pretty ignorant. I do not know how my grandparents got educated but it was mostly not in school.

Score this as a point for Bryan Caplan.

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