iGen, Education Trends, & and the Changing World of Work
Posted On December 6, 2016
(Today’s blog comes from our go-to demographer Gerald Bierling. I’ve asked Gerald to gather content on the generation following the Millennials – often called the Plurals or Gen Z, I prefer the term iGen – and afterwards, summarize some of it regarding the workplace.)
by Gerald Bierling
A lot is being written about the changing world of work and the difficulties the next few generations of Americans will have finding employment. Much of it focuses on the potential loss of jobs due to computerization. Researchers out of Oxford University, for example, estimate that up to 47% of US employment is at risk because of computerization (Frey and Osborne, The Future of Employment). While others have challenged that 47% figure, most analysts agree that computers and robotics will reduce the number of jobs available to Americans and change the type of skills required by workers.
The Pew Research Center (The State of American Jobs) nicely summarizes what the future labor market will require from its workers as we move towards a knowledge-focused economy. Workers will increasingly require social, communications, and analytical skills – skills which presumably our education system imparts. Pew also found that relatively more jobs are being created which require higher levels of education and training.
So will future generations have the education and skills needed for the labor market? In particular, how will the iGen (those born after 2000) stack up? The oldest iGen is only 15 years old. Most are still in elementary or middle school, and maybe haven’t yet started school. But there are a few demographic trends in post-secondary education that give a hint as to how well the iGen will fare.
The first of these is one we already know about – a greater percentage of people now have post-secondary education than people did a few generations ago. This is especially true for females, whose educational attainment has increased faster than it has for males in the past few decades.
Children – and the iGen in particular – are much more likely now to be raised in a situation where at least one of their parent’s has a Bachelor’s degree or higher. NORC’s General Social Survey results make this very clear. For example, in 1974 around 10.5% of people aged less than 35 had a father with a Bachelor’s or higher, and about 8% had a mother with a Bachelor’s or higher. In 2014 (the most recent year in which the GSS was completed) those figures were around 28% and 22% respectively.
And children whose parents have a post-secondary education are much more likely to get a post-secondary education than those whose parents haven’t attained that level of education. For example in 2014, just over 60% of 25-34 year olds whose father had a Bachelor’s degree of higher themselves earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher; by contrast, only about 20% of 25-34 year olds whose father had less than a Bachelors themselves had a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The education level of a mother has a similar impact on their child’s educational attainment.
The point of all of this is that the iGen are much more likely than any other generation to be raised in an environment conducive to them achieving the level of education required by the labour market of the future. Yes, there is still room for improvement, but education trends indicate that the iGen will be the most highly educated generation in American history.
 Depending on the data source used (such as the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey) the actual values might be slightly different. But the trends are the same.