High school mathematics coursework as a predictor of earnings in the labor market

Herbert Milton Turner, University of Pennsylvania


Since 1984, much attention has been given to formulating policies, raising standards, strengthening curricula, and allocating additional resources to encourage all K–12 pupils in the United States, not just those who pursue post-secondary education, to complete mathematics courses that are advanced. A general conclusion reached based on past research evidence is that completing more advanced high school mathematics courses has no effect on subsequent earnings. The evidence is not conclusive, however. This dissertation addresses several limitations of earlier evidence, and provides better evidence on the important question: What is the relationship between high school mathematics coursework and earnings in the labor market? The data for this study were drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), High School and Beyond (HSB), and the Occupational Network for Employment and Training (ONET). The last was used to augment the NLSY79 with such occupational characteristics as the level of math knowledge required to performing a job well. To estimate the parameters in the models proposed, ordinary least squares (OLS) and generalized least squares (GLS) were used. The HSB, NLSY79, and ONET, repeated contrast coding, and multiple imputation (MI) were used to address some of the methodological limitations of previous research. This study found that completing math up to Geometry in high school was associated with positive changes in earnings. This association was robust to statistical controls and to use of multiple imputation which retained respondents in the analysis sample which would have been excluded due to listwise deletion. Moreover, this association applied to HSB respondents and varied by highest education attainment and gender. This finding was not discernible for NLSY79 respondents. Faced with the choice of investing public dollars in policies for U.S. students to complete math up to Geometry, or in alternative policies such as raising students' family income; or providing students opportunity to attend a Parochial school through voucher programs, policymakers should seriously consider investing public dollars in policies that promote students completing math up to Geometry—especially for students without college aspirations.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Labor economics|Social research

Recommended Citation

Turner, Herbert Milton, "High school mathematics coursework as a predictor of earnings in the labor market" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3055005.