Employment Growth and Educational Attainment

By Devens, Richard M., Jr.; Godbout, Todd M. | Monthly Labor Review, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Employment Growth and Educational Attainment


Devens, Richard M., Jr., Godbout, Todd M., Monthly Labor Review


Employment growth in the United States outpaced that of Japan and Europe over the span of years between 1980 and 1996. In 1996, employment in the United States had grown by mom than a quarter from the level of 1980. In Japan, there were about 15 percent more jobs, while in the major economies of Europe,(1) there had been very little net increase. (See table 1.) There were several differences in the time tracks of employment growth among these nations, and there were important compositional differences in terms of industry and occupation.

Table 1. Employment in the United States,
Japan, and Europe, 1980-96
(in thousands)

Year    United     Japan     Europe(1)
        States

1980     99,303    54,600    92,800
1981    100,397    55,060    91,860
1982     99,526    55,620    91,350
1983    100,834    56,550    90,920
1984    105,005    56,870    91,250

1985    107,150    57,260    91,800
1986    109,597    57,740    92,530
1987    112,440    58,320    93,360
1988    114,968    59,210    94,920
1989    117,342    60,500    96,170

1990    118,793    61,710    97,680
1991    117,718    62,920    97,910
1992    118,492    63,620    97,420
1993    120,259    63,810    95,730
1994    123,060    63,860    95,260

1995    124,900    63,890    95,680
1996    126,708    64,200    95,720

(1) France, West Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

In the United States, the period began far less auspiciously than it ended. From 1981 to 1982, employment dropped sharply as a deep recession reached its trough. The economy recovered in 1983, and employment growth accelerated in 1984, then settled into a prolonged upward movement. In 1991, the economy again suffered job losses, followed this time by 2 years of sluggish growth before regaining a job growth rote that resembled the rates prevailing in the mid-1980s.

In Japan, there has been less variability of economic performance. There was no downturn of employment in the early 1980s and the period of moderate growth extended further into the 1990s before flattening into a prolonged period of sluggishness. In Europe, downturns in the early 1980s and 1990s were less abrupt but more prolonged than those in the United States. As of 1996, there was little recovery in employment visible in the aggregate of the four major European economies.

Educational attainment

One interesting comparative dimension underlying these differing growth trends has been in the degree of educational attainment embodied in the jobs created. In the United States from 1980 through 1996, there was an annual rise of 2.6 percent in high-attainment sectors(2)--those in which 30 percent or more workers have college degrees--and an annual rise of 0.9 percent in sectors with fewer college graduates. In Japan there was a similar pattern, although both growth rates were fractionally lower--2.5 percent for higher attainment industries and 0. …

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