Educational Sociology: Education & Economic Development
Historically, education has been essential for economic development. This is particularly true today as the jobs necessary to be competitive within the global marketplace become increasingly complex and rely on an ever-broader baseline set of knowledge, skills, and abilities. In the 21st century, in many ways, the control of technology differentiates a highly developed country from one that is underdeveloped. Not only does education matter in jobs relating to the science and technology fields, but it is also important for economic development. Although the United States is often viewed as a place for social mobility and working one's way out of a lower class and lower socioeconomic status, the literature shows a more complicated relationship between social class, race and ethnicity, education, occupation, and income.
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Educational Sociology > Education & Economic Development
Arguably, particularly in the high-tech environment of the twenty-first century, education is essential for economic development. Without education and the concomitant passing on of knowledge from one person to another and from one generation to another, humankind would still be reinventing the wheel rather than making smaller and smaller computers with greater and greater processing and storage capacity. In addition, as society becomes increasingly technologically advanced and economic growth becomes more dependent on knowledge, science, mathematics, and technology, education becomes increasingly essential in order to gain and maintain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace of the twenty-first century. Economic development and the education that enables and sustains it are imperative when one competes not only with the farm down the road or the shop around the corner, but with mega corporations and conglomerates that operate around the globe.
In the twenty-first century, technological and scientific expertise is an important factor in economic development. In many ways, the control of technology differentiates a highly developed country from one that is underdeveloped. Although today we tend to think of technology in terms of electronic tools and gadgets, in a more general sense, technology--or the application of science to industrial or commercial endeavors--has helped societies grow and advance throughout history. Irrigation systems, steam engines, and electrical power sources--all of which seem commonplace to us today--were once high technology advances that moved their respective societies forward. Arid lands have been reclaimed, homes made more inhabitable year round, and the long-distance transportation of goods have all been enabled by technological advances. These elements provide the infrastructure necessary for societies to continue advancing and sustaining their economic development. As this infrastructure becomes more complicated, it requires an increasing amount of knowledge in order to sustain and improve it. For the most part, expertise in these areas comes from education. Those countries with individuals who have the education and knowledge necessary to work with technology tend to continue to grow and develop; those that do not often struggle.
Obviously, education matters particularly in the knowledge, science, and technological fields. Similarly, education is important for economic development, or the sustainable increase in living standards for a nation, region, or society. More than mere economic growth (i.e., a rise in output), economic development is sustainable and positively impacts the well-being of all members of the group through such things as increased per capita income, education, health, and environmental protection. However, education is not the only factor that influences occupation and income, nor is the relationship between these two variables a simple one.
Socioeconomic status is the position of an individual or group on the two vectors of social and economic status and their combination. Socioeconomic status is determined by sociologists in a number of ways. One of these is based on a determination of an individual's education, income, and occupation. Typically, there is a strong positive correlation between a person's level of formal education and socioeconomic status. (This is not a perfect correlation, however. For example, college professors with doctoral degrees often receive notoriously low wages when compared to their years of formal education. On the other hand, Bill Gates of Microsoft Corporation is an exemplar of how a person can become an economic success despite a lack of postsecondary education.) In general, the more formal education an individual has, the more likely that person is to have a higher socioeconomic status and concomitant prestige. For example, on the average, physicians, lawyers, and others engaging in professional occupations that require advanced degrees have higher socioeconomic status than unskilled laborers.
As is illustrated by the stories of Horatio Alger, education in the United States is often viewed as a tool for social mobility and working one's way out of a lower class and lower socioeconomic status. However, the literature suggests that this is true only to a limited extent. For example, one's eventual occupation and income are also dependent on the social class into which one was born. For example, for upper-class Anglo Americans (including those with inherited wealth, professionals, and high-level managers) research has found social class origin to be more important than education in determining eventual occupation and income. In this case, the factors of class and race protect individuals from downward social mobility. On the other hand, these factors also act to block lower class minorities from too much upward mobility. The relationship between social class, race and ethnicity, education, occupation, and income is shown in Figure 1.
In the United States, an increasing number of individuals are obtaining post-secondary degrees. Based on the positive correlation between education and socioeconomic status, this might seem like a good thing not only for the individual, but for the economic development of society at large. However, research has found that in industrialized nations such as the United States, as the level of education continues to rise, the relative advantage of completing that education (measured in terms of income) has not risen at the same rate. This can be due to grade inflation, in which an excessive number of high grades are given to students or average students are given above average grades. Grade inflation effectively lowers the value of the top grades earned by higher achieving students. In such situations, academic credentials are no substitute for bona fide expertise in a job. The practice of grade inflation makes graduates ill-prepared for the realities of college or the work world, and society ill-prepared to compete in the global marketplace. In addition, grade inflation effectively lowers the value of the top grades earned by higher achieving students. This situation is called education deflation, a condition in which education at all levels is worth less than it was a generation or two ago.
Godo and Hayami (2002) performed an in-depth analysis of the role of education in helping Japan to develop its economic system. The study examined historical data from Japan and the United States and compared progress in education in these two countries. This comparison is important to understanding the relationship between education and economic development because Japan is a relative newcomer to industrialization when compared with Western Europe and North America. One of the primary goals for the modernization of Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 was to bring Japan into a position of economic strength to rival that of Western nations. One of the ways in which Japan accomplished economic growth was through the progress of education....
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