Andrew Norton today posts on the impact of delaying the start of university by a year. As he points out, we don’t have very good evidence on the causal impact, but it looks like taking a gap year may lead to better grades at university.
So if we believe the results, then everyone should delay, right? Um, not so fast. The problem with such an analysis is that it counts the benefits, but not the costs. All else equal, starting university a year later means one less year of earnings, or over $50,000 for the typical university graduate. If you want to travel the world,Â surf for a year,Â or really get to know your daytime soapies, then by all means take a gap year. But if you’re only doing it to get better grades at university, you might want to think again. Taking a year off your career is a pretty high price. Indeed, even if you work for a gap year, then the cost is the difference between a high school graduate’s wage and a university graduate’s wageÂ (30-40% by most estimates).
The same goes when considering the right age for children to start kindergarten. As the New York Times documented last year (behind paywall – no, wait, they’ve just lifted the paywall), there’s a strong move in the US towards holding kids back a year. Kids who are older for their grade probablyÂ do better at school; but it does come at the cost of a year’s earnings. My own theory is that parents may be over-weighting the outcomes that matter to them the most. Having your kid bring home a bad report card is an outcome that will affect you pretty quickly. But deducting a year off the end of your child’s career is an outcome that won’t affect the parent at all, since they will by then have shuffled off this mortal coil.