Go to school. Get a degree. Start your career. These are high priorities for young professionals.
But education is more than a ticket to a career. Education allows you to participate meaningfully in society. Education reduces and sometimes removes social inequities. As this article will show, education provides the keys to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As a young professional, good health is something you are likely blessed with, at least relative to your health, say, fifty years from now. Some take their physical well-being more seriously than others, but there is a stark correlation between education and health. The mortality rate for American adults who did not complete high school is three times higher than the rate for American adults who have some form of post-secondary education. Though the specific numbers change from country to country, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that health and education are highly correlated.
Generally speaking, the likelihood of incarceration is far from a young professional’s mind. Unfortunately, there are young people for whom imprisonment is a likely end-game. In the United States, young, male high school dropouts are forty-seven times more likely to be behind bars than young, male college graduates. Simply graduating from high school reduces the likelihood of incarceration by seventy percent. Note that an American college graduate is on par with a Canadian university graduate.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Unless you’re filthy rich, your personal pursuit of happiness will likely lead you to getting a job. If the job is not happiness in and of itself, it will give you the means to find happiness elsewhere. Young professionals are therefore very interested in finding and keeping a job. To that end, many young people (and some older people) attend university with the goal of obtaining a degree en route to a hopefully well-paying career. They pay for higher education despite the combined costs of living and tuition. Why? Because however irksome an education-related debt load may be, it’s worth it. In the United States, high school dropouts are four times more likely to be jobless than college graduates. When you factor in the types of jobs – and the associated salaries – that are available to those with post-secondary education, it’s easy to see why education matters in terms of employment and happiness.
Will education ensure you to get a job in the face of high unemployment rates for youth? There are many reasons for high levels of youth unemployment. A lack of on the job experience means that youth are not as well prepared for the working world as those with even a year or two of experience. Additionally, a lack of experience means a potential employer has very little information to go on in terms of quality; do high marks translate into a good employee? Youth are a risk for employers. However, they are also less expensive than older employees and have less job protections. The moral here is that there are many factors at play when youth are competing for jobs, and an education is a competitive edge.
For the least educated in our society, education seems to matter most. Many readers of Mindthis, however, will wonder why education matters to them now. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely graduated from high school and perhaps you’ve got a university degree or several under your belt. It’s time to stop thinking at the individual level and start thinking in the aggregate.
Economies with a higher level of average educational attainment tend to have higher standards of living. Translation: the better educated your society, the wealthier it is. With a better educated populace, information is spread more quickly and it is better understood, leading to more efficient markets. Information or knowledge economies produce higher value outputs than economies that rely on natural resources or traditional manufacturing. High concentrations of skilled workers attract foreign investment. On the whole, education matters.
What Economics Has to Say
For the economics wonks out there, here’s one more reason for valuing education: innovation. In mature economies, the amounts of labour and capital tend to be near their efficient allocations. How, then, can a mature economy ensure sustained growth in the future? Through continual innovation, says the Solow-Swan growth model in your macroeconomics textbook. You’ll recall that this model of economic growth suggests that production (sometimes measured by GDP) depends on two inputs – capital and labour – and an x factor known to some as technical progress, to others as knowledge. This x factor accounts for everything that capital and labour do not. It includes such things as know-how and technology, and it can be increased through innovation. How do we ensure continual innovation? We don’t know precisely, but we know education has something to do with it. This makes sense: a population full of critical thinkers is a population more likely to find solutions to emerging problems.
Summarizing, we see that education matters in terms of improving health, reducing incarceration rates, reducing joblessness, and increasing standards of living. In other words, education helps to protect the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Despite these empirically proven findings, there are some positively baffling policies, practices, and outcomes in public and private education, both in the United States and around the world. Stay tuned for future posts addressing education issues – and why they matter to you.
Note: The (awesome!) graphs are provided by TNTP, an education non-profit that aims to close the achievement gap in American, public, K-12 education. They want to make sure every child, regardless of socio-economic background, has access to an effective teacher.