Unexpectedly Intriguing!
29 March 2006

Christopher Wheeler has an interesting article (available as a 149KB PDF document) in the March/April 2006 edition of the of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' Review, which looks at the growth in the numbers of the college-educated in major metropolitan areas.

Aside from finding that larger, more-educated metropolitican areas are experiencing a faster rate of increase in the number of the college-educated than smaller, less-educated metropolitan areas, Wheeler has also documented trends in what industries are accumulating workers with at least bachelor degrees from 1980 through 2000. The following table is taken from Wheeler's Table 4 "College Attainment by Major Industry", with only difference being that the decimal values Wheeler presented have been converted into percentages. I've also added a new column indicating the percentage change in the representation of the college-educated hired in each industry from 1980 to 2000.

Finally, the data below is presented in a dynamic table. You may sort the data from low to high or from high to low for each category listed just by clicking the column headings:

College Attainment by Major Industry
Percentage of Each Industry's Total Employment with a Bachelor's Degree or Higher
Industry 1980 1990 2000 Pct. Change 1980-2000
Agriculture, forestry, fisheries 15.4 16.0 15.4 +00.0
Mining 13.8 17.9 14.1 +00.3
Construction 7.2 9.4 8.9 +01.7
Nondurable manufacturing 11.2 15.3 19.6 +08.4
Durable manufacturing 11.1 15.8 18.3 +07.2
Transportation 9.0 12.3 14.4 +05.4
Communications 14.6 23.1 32.8 +18.2
Utilities 12.3 18.1 19.4 +07.1
Wholesale trade 15.2 19.9 21.2 +06.0
Retail trade 9.2 11.6 13.6 +04.4
Finance, insurance, real estate 22.7 30.6 36.4 +13.7
Business and repair services 20.0 25.5 33.0 +13.0
Private household services 3.3 5.2 6.8 +03.5
Personal services 6.7 10.5 12.0 +05.3
Entertainment and recreation services 19.4 22.6 25.9 +06.5
Medical services 21.9 28.9 33.0 +11.1
Educational services 54.6 55.0 56.2 +01.6
Social services 35.9 41.0 46.7 +10.8
Other professional services 46.7 53.0 53.7 +07.0
Public administration 25.2 29.8 35.2 +10.0
Note: Percentages of each industry's total employment with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Why the Changes?

The table above may only be telling part of the story with respect to where the large increases in the college educated in many of the industries listed are being derived. Here is what we suspect the driving factors behind the changes to be:

New hire screening: For the large increases in the college-degreed among many of the total industry populations to have occurred between 1980 and 2000, an even larger percentage of the population being hired into these industries must be coming in with college degrees. This would suggest that these industries have increased the amount of the screening they do of their respective new hire pools to prefer the college-educated.

Converting existing employees: A large volume of people already working in each industry may have pursued and earned college degrees in the time since their original hiring, thereby converting them from the numbers of the undegreed to the ranks of the college-educated captured in the table's data.

Outsourcing and competition: Given the changes in the U.S. economy over the years from 1980 to 2000, many jobs being done that did not require college degrees may have been transferred out of the United States, either directly by the businesses within the industries through outsourcing or indirectly by business failures in the various industries spurred by foreign-based competition.

The bottom line? If you're looking to get work in the U.S., that college degree is becoming more and more important.

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