Bryan Caplan  

A Primer on Malemployment

The Status of Unemployed High-... Ezra Klein's Claim about the S...
Fogg and Harrington provide an excellent intro to the empirics of malemployment.  Highlights:

Mal-employment, a variant of underemployment, is based on the concept of over-education. It represents a mismatch between skill requirements of the job and the education of the worker: the education of the worker exceeds the education and skill required to perform the job. Literature on over-education reveals that although there is no single measure of overeducation or mal-employment, most researchers use one of four measures. Two of these measures are subjective since they rely on incumbent worker reports of whether they are over-educated for their jobs or assess the minimum educational requirements for their job. The report or assessment is then compared with their educational attainment to determine if they are over-educated. The other two measures used to identify underemployment are objective by comparison: the first, "realized matches," derives the required education from the mean or modal level of education in the workers' occupation. The second is based upon a systematic evaluation of the job or occupation and a determination of the level of education required to perform the job.
Fogg and Harrington's approach:
Our definition of mal-employment combines the two objective criteria. We have used the findings from job analysis of each occupation provided in the US Department of Labor's O*NET occupational-analysis information system to determine the level of education required to perform the job in each of the 900-plus occupations in the system. O*NET job analysis is based on extensive surveys of incumbent workers, supervisors, and experts in
each occupational area. In cases where the analysis did not provide definitive answers, we have used realized matches and occasionally subjective judgments to determine the educational requirements of occupations.

Using primarily these measures we have identified a set of occupations that we label "college labor market" (CLM). This set generally includes professional, technical, managerial, and high-level sales occupations, which utilize the skills and knowledge that are commonly thought to be acquired through a college education. Using this definition, those college graduates who are not in CLM occupations are considered mal-employed.
Over the past decade, the share of all college graduates of any age employed in a CLM job with a bachelor's degree declined from 75 percent in 2000 to about 72 percent in 2010. Conversely, this means that the share of employed college graduates with a bachelor's degree who were malemployed increased from 25 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2010. About half of the increase in the mal-employment rate over the past decade occurred in just three years since the beginning of the recession in 2007.

The sharpest increase in the mal-employment rate between 2000 and 2010 occurred among the youngest college graduates (Table 1). Over the decade, the mal-employment rate increased by 9.3 percentage points among the youngest college graduates (20-24 years old) and 6.4 percentage points in the next age group of college graduates (25-29 years old) whereas their middle-aged counterparts saw a very small increase in the mal-employment rate--1.6 percent rise among 30-44 year olds and a decline of 0.6 percentage points among 45-54 year olds.
Malemployment by major for 2009:
Malemployment has a huge effect on earnings.  Conditional on being employed at all, credentials pay the malemployed next to nothing.  CLM="College Labor Market"; Non-CLM="Non-College Labor Market," a.k.a. "malemployed."


Hard-hitting punchline:
Most observers agree that a college degree yields, on average, a large earnings advantage. But our findings reveal that this advantage is heavily dependent on the ability of college graduates to find employment in CLM occupations. College graduates who work in semiskilled /unskilled bluecollar, low-end service and sales, transportation and warehousing, and other occupations outside of the CLM experience have much lower annual earnings that may not justify the economic and personal costs of completing a college degree program.

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
David Adsit writes:

I'm really curious if and how malemployment changes over time. Do those who are recently graduated suffer from more significant malemployment then move into the CLM at a significant rate over time? Are older workers more likely to have pursued degree programs that lead to CLM jobs when they were younger? Have cohort studies been run? Or perhaps started? Has the push for higher and higher rates of college enrollment lead to greater malemployment? Does encouraging children to pursue a passion rather than a job lead to higher rates of malemployment?

As a college dropout and father who managed to beat the odds and get into a successful career in software despite an incomplete formal education, I am quite concerned about the future of education for my children. Should I tell my kids to go STEM or stay home?

Anton Rasmussen writes:

I can't think of a better reason to start one's own business.

This is why I've burned all the boats and become a freelance writer/blogger.

Thanks Bryan!


Daublin writes:

@David, it's politically incorrect, but it sorta looks that way.

I know it sounds strange, but should college really be easy? Should people really just reside on a college campus four years and absorb superpowers by osmosis?

It used to be that people talked about college being bath hard to get into and hard to succeed at. Nowadays everyone wants to talk about college being affordable.

Enlightened lib smugly taxing you at 55% writes:

too long didn't read: People who make high incomes are usually really smart, worked hard, got into good schools, and picked majors that gave them skills employers really want. People who treated college as a 4 year vacation to study a hobby are not "mal-employed."

First off, degrees are not commodities, and most studies I see try to treat them as such. Even breaking it down by major is insufficient.

Education really doesn't matter unless you acquire a skill set that is valuable to an employer. Kids today have been brainwashed (although it is starting to come undone, and I think will be completely reversed in a generation) into thinking college = good job. That is what their parents (and society in general) taught them, and which, for the most part was true 40 years ago.

Now, a degree from Harvard is not the same as a degree from the university of Phoenix online, EVEN if they teach the same things. Harvard is a great school because of the kids they can recruit. They don't educate any better or teach any different material than UMICH, UWisconsin or any other top tier institution that isn't considered hyper-elite. Employers know that the best of the best students will be at Harvard, and are banking that these students are worth the premium they cost to the employer because of the results they think they will get.

Bradley Hobbs writes:

@Daublin And yet...

MingoV writes:

The primary reason for the large percentage of college graduates being malemployed is that too many people go to college. Educators, decades ago, decided that nearly everyone should go to college because they believed that most future jobs would require college degrees. Educators continue the push for getting more high school grads into college despite overwhelming evidence of failure. Our economy still needs many service workers, truck drivers, construction and maintenance-related workers, repair persons, sales persons, cashiers, etc. These jobs can be filled by high school grads or by those who complete a year or two of trade school. Young people with good hands-on skills will do much better as plumbers or refrigerator repairers than as college grads (with $40,000 of student loans) working in a hardware store.

Guest writes:

This is a confirmation of Ivar Berg (1970), which pointed out the mismatch
between skills needed, skills required (for various sociological reasons),
and educational attainment.

One of Berg's students followed this up with a comprehensive theory about
WHY this was happening, available here.

Even though these studies were all done more than forty-years ago, it's
still news to us today.

[formatting fixed--Econlib Ed.]

T.L. Brink writes:

WHAT you major in is one important factor in getting employed at a good salary. A more important factor is WHERE you get your degree. If it is from a for-profit diploma mill, future opportunities are limited.

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