Are We Dumbing?

Clive Crook writes about “the dumbing of America”:

For the first time in decades, and probably ever, workers retiring from the US labor force will be better-educated on average (according to one measure anyway) than their much younger counterparts. Some 12 per cent of 60-64 year olds have a master’s degree or better; less than 10 per cent of 30-34 year olds do. More generally, the decades-long rise in the educational quality of the labor force is coming to an end. This is important, because that rise has been one of the principal forces driving American economic growth.

I’m not 100 percent sure this represents genuine “dumbing” since my guess would be that substantially more people are simply delaying acquisition of advanced degrees than was the case 30 years ago. Still, as Clive says even flat levels of educational attainment represent a pretty disturbing trend. On the one hand, it threatens America’s future economic growth. On the other hand, the fact that the wage premium that accrues to college graduates keeps going up but the proportion of people going to college doesn’t is a contributing factor to growing inequality.

Ryan Avent calls for “investments in education, particularly those that improve affordability.” That’s important, of course, but it’s also crucial to improve college preparation. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be lagging far behind by the time they graduate from high school in a way that makes it difficult for any changes to higher education to help people catch up.