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Education, skills and human capital

The human capital or skill force of a nation plays a critical role in determining the productivity and growth of its economy, the well-being of its population, and the level of social and economic inequality. Skills – both hard and soft – are shaped across the life-cycle through a series of private and public investments, made by parents, employers, and society as a whole through public spending on education.

IFS has made important contributions to understanding the process through which human capital is accumulated, how different types of skills relate to adult well-being, and how effective human capital policies are at promoting skill accumulation.

Our research in this area includes work on the role of the family and the importance of parenting and the home environment for the development of children. It also includes work on the determinants and effectiveness of educational investments, from early childcare and pre-school education, through to primary and secondary schools, post-compulsory schooling, higher education and adult learning. For example, we have evaluated the impact of interventions, such parenting programmes, school breakfast clubs, teacher training programmes, financial incentives designed to broaden university access, as well as vocational and job training programmes. We have also done research on school quality and the long-term impact of school starting age on academic achievements and skill formation.

Our rigorous research makes IFS an important actor in the public debate on education and human capital policy. For example, we frequently analyze and comment on school and higher education funding reforms. We have also performed a comprehensive analysis of the long-run trends in education spending and of the extent to which such spending is redistributive.

Selected highlights

Education spending is the second-largest element of public service spending in the UK behind health, representing about £91 billion in 2018–19 in today’s prices or about 4.2% of national income.
Journal article
Graduates from higher income families (with median income of around £77,000) have average earnings which are 20% higher than those from lower income families (with median income of around £26,000). Once we condition on institution and subject choices, this premium roughly halves, to around 10%.
We have established a new partnership between academics, local government and early years practitioners to develop, implement and evaluate a home-visiting programme for parents with very young children in England. In this feasibility study, we research local priorities and existing services to ...
Journal article
In this paper, we use an economic model to analyse data from a major randomized social experiment, namely PROGRESA in Mexico, and to evaluate its impact on school participation.


Contact IFS on 020 7291 4800 or [email protected]

Jack Britton
Associate Director
Sarah Cattan
Associate Director
Christine Farquharson
Senior Research Economist
Wenchao (Michelle) Jin
Research Economist
Laura van der Erve
Senior Research Economist