Tuesday, 15 October 2013

An un-recognised additional cost of higher education

In my ECON110 Economics and Society class, one of the topics we cover is the economics of education. Specifically, part of the topic looks at the private education decision - under human capital theory, we would choose another year of education (or to study a course, certificate, degree, etc.) provided the incremental benefits outweigh the incremental costs. The incremental benefits include higher lifetime earnings, which may arise from productivity gains, but also from signalling to employers that you are a better hire, as well as social capital gains from interacting with a cohort of like-minded students who will each go onto future careers. The incremental costs include direct costs such as tuition, textbooks, accommodation (provided it costs more than accommodation would if not studying), and so on. The incremental costs also include opportunity costs, such as foregone income while studying, foregone leisure time, and so on.

The Becker-Posner blog this week discussed the increasing costs of education (see here for Becker's post, and here for Posner's). These increasing costs are happening in New Zealand, not just the U.S. However, Becker and Posner also note that the returns to higher education are also increasing (though, New Zealand doesn't do so well on this front compared with the rest of the OECD). So, in spite of the increasing tuition costs, the cost-benefit calculation will still often come out in favour of university study for most students.

However, there may be other costs of higher education that are less well recognised. A paper published in the journal Kyklos last year (gated) by Helmut Rainer (University of Munich) and Ian Smith (University of St Andrews) raising the prospoect of an additional (and unrecognised) cost of higher education - lower sexual satisfaction. Rainer and Smith showed that education had two effects on sexual satisfaction. On the one hand, education improves communication between partners, which makes them more likely to coordinate their sexual preferences and leads to higher sexual satisfaction. On the other hand, education increases earnings and therefore increases the opportunity costs of leisure activities (including sex). Their empirical findings based on German data show that the opportunity cost effects dominate, leading higher education to be associated with lower sexual satisfaction overall.

The Rainer and Smith papers sits alongside an earlier paper in Economic Inquiry by Hugo Mialon of Emory University (ungated version here), on the economics of faking orgasm. Mialon found that both men and women with higher education were more likely to fake orgasms. His argument was along similar lines - higher earnings for more educated people led to higher opportunity costs of time, making them "more likely to fake just to get it over with".

So, when considering the private decision on education based on human capital grounds, there is an additional cost to consider!

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