2008 March 28 Friday
Educational Levels Declining In America

Clive Crook points to a study that shows average educational levels in America have peaked and are declining.

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.

These findings are from a new study by Jacob Funk Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: "The Accelerating Decline in America's High-Skilled Workforce: Implications for Immigration Policy". If you are interested in the prospects for American competitiveness and continued economic leadership, Jacob's study is mandatory reading.

The demographic change is a reason to be very bearish on the US economy. We can't grow if we don't have enough brains to do all the intellectually difficult jobs. Our immigration policy for the last few decades has dumbed down the population. That dumbing down will weigh down the economy in coming decades.

Crook and Kirkegaard favor letting in more skilled immigrants. But what we really need to do is to stop letting in all but the highly skilled. It is the ratio of skilled to unskilled (which is a proxy for the ratio of smart to dumb) that determines living standards more than any other factor. Verbal IQ is most important in determining the wealth of nations.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 March 28 11:47 PM  Economics Demographic

bp said at March 29, 2008 12:02 AM:

Just comparing the percentage with degrees understates the problem. I bet the degrees of the older cohort were much more rigorous. Lots of reasons to be pessimistic.

Wolf-Dog said at March 29, 2008 3:20 AM:

"Verbal IQ is most important in determining the wealth of nations."

I am skeptical about the following aspect of the statistics that Verbal IQ is more important: I am not disputing the accuracy of the numerical results listed at that web site which demonstrate that higher Verbal IQ leads to higher financial income than Science IQ; what I am complaining is about the reason this is so... It seems to me that the superficial nature of the masses is such that good speech and eloquent writing, public presentation, clever speech, etc, seem to get mucy better rewarded than scientific thinking. What made America initially rich was the brilliant people like Edison, Tesla (his arch-enemy), and the productivity of the engineering talent. Verbose lawyers with high Verbal IQ are innumerable, and they do have talent for making money, but their method for making money is to take the money from others.

clayton said at March 29, 2008 8:18 AM:

Hey Randall,

I am not sure if you have read 'survival of the fattest: the key to human brain evolution' by stephen cunane PhD. In brief the human brain is an calorie sucking machine, in adults you see it using over 20% of the energy produced by the body. But besides the need for Calories, the structural and functional aspect of the brain requires certan nutrients. Iodine, Iron, Zinc , Selenium and Copper and also copious amounts of docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and Arachadonic Acid. The single best food source for these brain selective nutrients is seafood.
I bring this up since most americans eat an incredibly limited amount of seafood, and a deficiency in any of these nutrients can have a deleterious effect on brain function (as you have pointed out numerous times on futurepundit ).Take DHA for example , with an insuffient amount of DHA in the brain our bodies will try to use docosapentanoic acid as a structural substitute, either in the omega 3 or omega 6 variety. the net effect of this substitution is a 1000 fold DECREASE in neurotransmitter activity.

So given that food is such essential part of brain activty, I wonder how much of the questions of genetic inferiority of certain peoples brought up by readers of this blog is not in fact a combination of poor nutrional status combined with a cultural mindset that may have evovled from poor nutrion and other factors.

This isn't to say ignore the criminal or negligent behavior of people, but if it's the case and properly fed individuals can excell beyond that of their phenotype? Why not ensure that everybody gets adequate nutriton and raise the quality of life for everybody? We can always use more einsteins, washington-carvers and chandraskars to name a few.

Bob Badour said at March 29, 2008 11:47 AM:

Hi Clayton,

Portugal consumes a lot of fish. How do they rank with respect to IQ?

Randall Parker said at March 29, 2008 12:54 PM:


I've always wondered how brain energy consumption correlates with IQ. I suspect smart people have mutations that increase their computing power per unit of energy used. Efficiency increases were necessary to prevent overheating.

I also wonder whether seasonal depression for some people is a way to reduce brain activity during winter months in order to conserve calories. The people who get depressed in winter might have genetic variants selected for to conserve fat in the winter.

DHA and IQ: What I wonder is whether smarter people can use more kinds of fats as construction materials for neurons. Or maybe their metabolisms do a better job of retaining the fats most useful for neuron membranes.

Criminal people: A 2003 study on British prisoners found a nutritional supplement appeared to reduce behavioral problems.

Bob said at April 1, 2008 6:18 PM:

Silicon Valley with its mostly white managers, bankers, lawyers, and government officials and mostly Asian scientists, programmers, and engineers is the richest few square miles in the world. Hong Kong similarly did very well with this formula. This may be the ideal mix.

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