What is an ATAR and what does this have to do with income?

Cross-post from Substack.

Look I’m from New Zealand – so when everyone around me started talking about ATARs I just smiled and nodded.

In fact I probably couldn’t talk to most people in New Zealand about education. I’m from the “pre-NCEA” era – where a single end of year exam for five courses, scaled to fit a within-course normal distribution, determined most of anything. As a result, these more complex design criteria are well outside of my lived experience.

But it turns out ATARs are a very important part of an individuals assessment in Australia – providing a measure of how well a student performed relative to their peers, and determining their university admission.

This raises a question – how is a good performance on your ATARs associated with future earnings? Luckily for us Elyse Dwyer and Silvia Griselda at e61 decided to find out.

tl;dr a higher ATAR is associated with higher average earnings – but there is significant variability in income by ATAR. As a result, even though we’d expect the type of person who receives a higher ATAR to end up with higher earnings at 30, there is a lot more going on under the hood.

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Pandemic preferences – the case of housing

Cross-post from Substack.

COVID was a pretty big life shock for all of us – with uncertainty about the virus, and the magnitude of government interventions associated with it, leading people to change their way of doing things across a number of dimensions of their life.

One of the clearest changes was the decision of where to live. In a fascinating note from e61’s Aaron Wong from mid-2023 he shows people did change their behaviour regarding renting property following COVID – and that this shows up clearly in the rental premium paid for living in cities between 2020 and 2022.

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Cost of job loss: Wage scarring

Cross posted from Substack.

Previously we’ve talked about the cost of job loss in terms of revealed consumption responses – i.e. how do individuals cut their spending following job loss. This is a useful concept, and there is going to be more to say on this in the next year.

But a more basic point people may ask with respect to the cost of job loss – how much lower is someone’s lifetime income if they end up getting shoved out of their job!

Let’s chat about that while investigating some initial work my colleagues and I have undertaken at e61. For those who know things already, or don’t want to read, here is the picture you are after:

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How much does benefit abatement influence labour supply?

A common refrain when talking about unemployment benefits is the Iron Triangle of Welfare.

If we are only going to spend a fixed amount on welfare payments, then there is a trade-off between the size of the payment and the incentive to work – where the incentive to work is captured by how much of their new found labour earnings they get to keep. It is even a common point that I make when I’m off lecturing on the topic.

But what if I told you that empirical evidence suggests unemployment benefit recipients who are working don’t appear very responsive to what are essentially huge (50 percentage point) increases in their tax rate?

Well that is indeed what I find here, as discussed by the AFR here.

What does this mean? A number of things so lets have a chat.

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Should we offer higher benefits to those over 55?

In the last blog post I noted that there were rumors of a higher benefit rate for those over 55. Since then we’ve been thrown into an information vacuum in Australia, as noted here by David Plunket.

After some detailed discussion in the e61 offices my boss (Gianni La Cava) snuck off and pulled together a micronote indicating why this policy might not be the right way to go – namely, the average person on the benefit over the age of 55 is much less likely to be in financial stress than a young Australian who is reliant on the benefit. The note isn’t saying that a higher rate isn’t beneficial – it is saying that we should be consistent when applying these arguments to younger Australians! Update: ABC coverage here.

I suggest you go read the note. As I like to pretend to add value I’m going to take a wee bit of a step back to try to contextualise why we are chatting about the payment in this post 😉

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Assessing benefit eligibility and adequacy

Last week we’d been chatting about the unemployment benefit in Australia and the reasons why some unemployed people don’t get it, while some people who aren’t unemployed do.

Everything boiled down to eligibility criteria – criteria that are intended to exclude those that aren’t deemed to need it.

After realising this, my colleagues and I at e61 were interested in using available data to provide an assessment of the whether these eligibility criteria were effective at this stated aim. So here is the note, and here is the appendix. We also used a similar method to evaluate outcomes for those who did receive the payment.

The key result – judging by consumption responses, there are a group of single Australian’s (likely older and without kids) who appear to go through greater hardship following job loss.

[Update: After setting this post to go up I’ve been sent that the government is going to increase payments for those over 55 – I’m guessing for single individuals. Not the biggest fan of highly bifucated rates, but will wait for the proposal and discuss – and would note that outside of the consumption responses we yarn about the international labour supply evidence on this is quite mixed and hopefully we can comment a bit on Australia in a few months 😉 ]

Before jumping to the post I want to note a couple of things:

  • You might believe that irrespective of means this should be a payment for job loss, or a provided minimum income – in this case you’ll still want to scrap criteria no matter what this research says. And that is legitimate.
  • You might weigh the costs from individuals missing out much more highly than the provision of a payment to someone who doesn’t need it – in this case you’ll want to dig in further to identify very narrow groups of individuals who may be excluded. This is also legitimate, but the data sources aren’t quite ready to go that deep … yet!

Given this, lets chat.

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