For decades, the primary argument in justifying education has been based on its direct economic effects. Yet education also provides "social benefits" for individuals and society at large, including a better way of taking care of ourselves, and consequently creating a better society to live in. Though it is difficult to quantify these social benefits, a more systematic analysis would improve our understanding of the full effects of education and provide a basis for considering related policies. The Office of Research of the United States Department of Education commissioned a series of papers on measuring these effects of education.
Those papers, revised and updated, are collected here. Kenneth J. Arrow provides perspective on education and preference formation, and Jere R. Behrman considers general conceptual and measurement issues in assessing the social benefits of education and policies related to education. These issues are taken up by experts in four fields—health, parenting, the environment, and crime. Themes addressed include measurement issues regarding what we mean by education and its benefits; basic analytical issues in assessing the impact of education on these social benefits using behavioral data; and whether the social benefits of education justify public policy interventions.