Open Access Original article

The use of cognitive ability measures as explanatory variables in regression analysis

Brian Junker1, Lynne Steuerle Schofield2 and Lowell J Taylor3*

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

2 Dept. Mathematics & Statistics, Swarthmore College, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19086

3 Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

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IZA Journal of Labor Economics 2012, 1:4  doi:10.1186/2193-8997-1-4

Published: 9 October 2012

Abstract

Cognitive ability measures are often taken as explanatory variables in regression analysis, e.g., as a factor affecting a market outcome such as an individual’s wage, or a decision such as an individual’s education acquisition. Cognitive ability is a latent construct; its true value is unobserved. Nonetheless, researchers often assume that a test score, constructed via standard psychometric practice from individuals’ responses to test items, can be safely used in regression analysis. We examine problems that can arise, and suggest that an alternative approach, a “mixed effects structural equations” (MESE) model, may be more appropriate in many circumstances.

JEL Code

J01

Keywords:
Labor economics; Structural equations modeling; Item response theory