Friday, February 15, 2008

Educational attainment, growth, and demographic change

David Brooks wrote in his column today that

"The percentage of young Americans completing college has been stagnant for a generation. As well-educated boomers retire over the next decades, the quality of the American work force is likely to decline."

I do not think either statement is true. According to data from the Current Population Survey, the percentage of workers aged 25-34 with a college degree has risen from about 24% in the late 1970s to about 30% today. The data do reveal plateaus between about 1975 and 1995 and perhaps another one since 2000, but much intergenerational progress.

Meanwhile, about 30% of workers currently aged 55-64 have college degrees. While the boomers certainly were better educated on average than their predecessors, there is little evidence to support the idea they are any better educated than younger cohorts. Their looming retirement will be challenging, but not because of any impending decline in the average quality of the labor force.