Education seems like it’s the answer to everything in the United States. When it comes to social problems or individual opportunity, we place an enormous amount of faith in education to cure what ails us. Given all the time and money we invest, especially as students, we hope that the payoff will be worth it.
The good news for students hoping that more education leads to higher incomes is that recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates a strong positive correlation: as educational level goes up, median income also rises.
My past posts (data from 2010, 2007 and 2004) on the relationship between education and income routinely receive among the most visits of any posts I have. The new numbers in this post are for 2012 and were released in 2013. They come from the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (PINC-03: 2012 Person Income Table of Contents – Both Sexes, 25 to 64 Years, Worked Full-Time, Year-Round, All Races (Excel file)). Graphically, the new numbers look like this:
A New York Times article by David Leonhardt, “Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say” reaches a similar conclusion. Leonhardt reports that the difference in income between those with a high school degree and those with a college degree has risen steadily.
The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.