May 1998, Vol. 121, No. 5
International report: employment growth and educational attainment
Tables and charts (PDF 10K)
Richard M. Devens, Jr.
Economist, Office of Publications and Special Studies, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Todd M. Godbout
Economist, Office of Productivity and Technology, Bureau of Labor Statistics
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 more 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.
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 rate 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.
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 sectors2those in which 30 percent or more workers have college degreesand 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 lower2.5 percent for higher attainment industries and 0.8 percent in lower attainment sectors. (See chart 1.)
In Europe, there were somewhat different developments. Although rates of growth in high-attainment sectors were somewhat lower in all four major economies than in the United States or Japan, the major difference in Europe was not found among jobs in these sectors. In all four of these nations, there was an absolute decline in employment in lower attainment jobs between 1980 and the mid-1990s. The number of lower attainment jobs in the United Kingdom went down 0.7 percent per year from 1980 to 1996, and declined 0.4 percent in Italy. In France and Germany, where comparable statistics are available for 1980 through 1993, employment in the lower attainment sectors fell by 0.9 percent and 0.1 percent per year, respectively.
As a result, the composition of employment registered different patterns of change across these countries. In Europe (excluding West Germany), the tilt toward sectors with higher educational attainment was quite pronounced. The following tabulation shows the employment share of higher educational attainment sectors in 1980 and 1993 or 1996:
Country 1980 1993 1996 France 36.6 43.7 ----- United Kingdom 35.6 ----- 45.1 Italy 27.8 ----- 36.9
The patterns of composition showed marked increases of about 10 percentage points in the share of the employed that worked in sectors that had higher concentrations of college graduates.
In the United States, Japan, and West Germany, the tendency to increased share of employment in such industries was relatively more muted. In the United States, 40.6 percent of the employed in 1980 were in high-attainment sectors. By 1996, this share was 47.4 percent. In West Germany, high-attainment sectors accounted for 31.7 percent of employment in 1980 and 38.2 percent in 1993, the most recent year for which data are available. In Japan, 28.2 percent of the employed in 1980 were in sectors that employed higher concentrations of college graduates. By 1996, this share had edged up to 33.9 percent, but Japan had exchanged places with Italy at the bottom of the table, despite having a faster growth rate of jobs in high-attainment sectors.
1 France, West Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
2 The higher educational attainment sectors consist of finance, real estate, insurance, business services, and personal services. The lower educational attainment sectors consist of manufacturing, construction, public utilities, wholesale and retail trade and transportation and communication.
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