Human Capital in Russia: Measurement Accuracy and Limitations of the Method

Human Capital in Russia:
Measurement Accuracy and Limitations of the Method

Popov D.S.

Cand. Sci. (Soc.), Leading Researcher, Institute of Sociology of FCTAS RAS; Assoc. Prof., National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia

ID of the Article:

For citation:

Popov D.S. Human Capital in Russia: Measurement Accuracy and Limitations of the Method. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2020. No 11. P. 27-38


Developed by the US economists human capital theory has become widespread in the social sciences. However, its application and critical revision are mainly related to relatively stable highly developed societies. The article discusses difficulties in applying this theory to Russian society, which went through deep structural social and economic transformations in the late 20th – early 21st centuries. The data of the International Program for the Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC) show distinctive features of human capital in Russia, its difference from those in OECD countries, and the retrospective dynamics of its accumulation. Three related issues are consecutively analyzed in the article. The first is consistency/inconsistency of formal diplomas and measured literacy. This is an attempt to determine how accurately the standard technique for measuring human capital works in the country. The second issue is how the loss or, on the contrary, the acquisition of skills occurs throughout life in several cohorts. These ongoing processes affect current state of human capital and may be particularly associated with deep socio-economic changes. And finally, the third problem is related to how efficiently obtained diplomas and competencies can be converted into wages in the Russian economy, what is the return on knowledge and skills on the labor market. The limitations of the theory of human capital application in Russian conditions are demonstrated.

human capital; education; adult competences; PIAAC; comparative study


Беккер Г.С. Человеческое поведение: экономический подход. Избранные труды по экономической теории. М.: ГУ ВШЭ, 2003. [Becker G.S. (2003) Human Behavior: Economical Approach. Selected Works on Economic Theory. Moscow: SU HSE. (In Russ.)]

Капелюшников Р.И. Человеческий капитал России: эволюция и структурные особенности // Вестник общественного мнения. Данные. Анализ. Дискуссии. 2005. № 4(78). С. 46–54. [Kapelyushnikov R.I. (2005) Russia’s Human Capital: Evolution and Structural Features. Vestnik obshchestvennogo mneniya. Dannye. Analiz. Diskussii [The Russian Public Opinion Herald. Data. Analysis. Discussions]. No. 4(78): 46–54. (In Russ.)]

Кузьмина Ю.В., Попов Д.С. Функциональная грамотность взрослых и их включенность в общество в России // Социологические исследования. 2015. № 7. С. 48–57. [Kuzmina Yu.V., Popov D.S. (2015) Adults’ Literacy as Mechanism for Their Societal Inclusion. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia [Sociological Studies]. No. 7: 48–57. (In Russ.)]

Лукьянова А.Л. Отдача от образования: что показывает мета-анализ // Экономический журнал ВШЭ. 2010. Т. 14. № 3. С. 326–348. [Lukiyanova A.L. (2010) Returns to Education in Russia: Evidence from Meta-Analysis. Ekonomicheskiy zhurnal VShE [The Higher School Economics Economic Journal]. Vol. 14. No. 3: 326–348. (In Russ.)]

Попов Д.С., Стрельникова А.В. Работа, образование и грамотность в России: проблема неконсистентности // Журнал исследований социальной политики. 2017. Т. 15. № 2. С. 267–280. [Popov D.S., Strelnikova A.V. (2017) Work, Education and Literacy in Russian Society: The Problem of Inconsistency. Zhurnal issledovaniy sotsialnoy politiki [The Journal of Social Policy Studies]. Vol. 15. No. 2: 267–280. (In Russ.)]

Рощин С.Ю., Рудаков В.Н. Измеряют ли стартовые заработные платы выпускников качество образования? Обзор российских и зарубежных исследований // Вопросы образования. 2015. № 1. С. 137–181. [Roshchin S.Yu., Rudakov V.N. (2015) Do Starting Salaries for Graduates Measure the Quality of Education? A Review of Studies by Russian and Foreign Authors. Voprosy obrazovaniya [Educational Studies]. No. 1: 137–181. (In Russ.)]

Arum R., Roksa J. (2014) Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Becker G., Murphy K. (2003) Social Economics: Market Behavior in a Social Environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Boliver V. (2011) Expansion, Differentiation, and the Persistence of Social Class Inequalities in British Higher Education. Higher Education. Vol. 61. No. 3: 229–242. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-010-9374-y.

Borgen N.T. (2015) College Quality and the Positive Selection Hypothesis: The ‘Second Filter’ on Family Background in High-Paid Jobs. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Vol. 39: 32–47. DOI: 10.1016/j.rssm.2014.11.001.

Bourdieu P., Passeron J.-P. (1990) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage.

Cheidvasser S., Benitez-Silva H. (2007) The Educated Russian's Curse: Returns to Education in the Russian Federation during the 1990s. Labour. Vol. 21. No. 1: 1–41. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9914.2007.00365.x.

Collins R. (1979) The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Glomm G., Ravikumar B. (1992) Public versus Private Investment in Human Capital: Endogenous Growth and Income Inequality. Journal of Political Economy. Vol. 100. No. 4: 818–834. DOI: 10.1086/261841.

Hansen H. (2011) Rethinking Certification Theory and the Educational Development of the United States and Germany. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Vol. 29. No. 1: 31–55. DOI: 10.1016/j. rssm.2011.01.003.

Hanushek E.A., Woessmann L. (2010) The Economics of International Differences in Educational Achievement. In: Hanushek E.A., Machin S., Woessmann L. (eds) Handbook of the Economics of Education. Vol. 3. Amsterdam: North Holland: 89–200.

Hanushek E.A., Schwerdt G., Wiederhold S., Woessmann L. (2015) Returns to Skills Around the World: Evidence from PIAAC. European Economic Review. Vol. 73. January: 103–130. DOI: 10.1016/j. euroecorev.2014.10.006.

Marginson S. (2019) Limitations of Human Capital Theory. Studies in Higher Education. Vol. 44. No. 2: 287–301. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2017.1359823.

Mincer J. (1958) Investment in Human Capital and Personal Income Distribution. Journal of Political Economy. Vol. 66. No. 4: 281–302.

Mincer J. (1970) The Distribution of Labor Incomes: a Survey with Special Reference to the Human Capital Approach. Journal of Economic Literature. Vol. 8. No. 1: 1–26.

OECD. (2009) PIAAC Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments: A Conceptual Framework. OECD Education Working Papers No. 36. Paris: OECD Publishing. DOI: 10.1787/220262483674.

OECD. (2013) OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. Paris: OECD Publishing.

OECD. (2016) Technical Report of the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). 2nd ed. Paris: OECD Publishing. URL: (accessed 14.08.2020).

Spence M. (1973) Job Market Signaling. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 87. No. 3: 355–374. DOI: 10.2307/1882010.

Spence M. (1974) Competitive and Optimal Responses to Signals: An Analysis of Efficiency. Journal of Economic Theory. Vol. 7. No. 3: 296–332. DOI: 10.1016/0022-0531(74)90098-2.

Triventi M. (2013) The Role of Higher Education Stratification in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in the Labor Market. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Vol. 32. No. 1: 45–63. DOI: 10.1016/j. rssm.2013.01.003.

Wolniak G.C., Seifert T.A., Reed E.J., Pascarella E.T. (2008) College Majors and Social Mobility. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Vol. 26. No. 2: 123–139. DOI: 10.1016/j.rssm.2008.02.002.

Content No 11, 2020