May 30, 2013

College Enrollment versus Labor Force Participation for Age 18 to 24

I've been discussing labor force participation lately.   My first look at the recent trends in labor force participation was only for ages 25 to 54.  I excluded people age 18 to 24 with the belief that people in that age range are going to college more which skews their labor force participation rates.

I got figures for college enrollment by age at the Census site.  The census has data by decade going back to 1980 and the latest numbers are from 2009 so I'll look at dates for 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2009.      I used a BLS database lookup to find the total population and the labor force size.   Add it all up and I get the charts below:

First lets look at men age 18 to 24.

Those lines seem to slope in the opposite directions at about the same rate.    In fact from 1980 to 2009 the percent of population in college was up 14% and the labor force rate was down 12%.  

Now the women age 18 to 24.

Women went to college at a faster rate.   They went from 24% to 45% an in crease of 21% of the population.   At the same time their labor force rate waffled and dropped and is down 3% net.    The trend here is a little different than for men as the college enrollment rate is up a lot but the labor force is less changed.

You might have noticed in the two charts above that if you add the college attendance rate and the labor force participation rates that you get more than 100%.    We can assume that is due to overlap with a certain group that both attends college and works.

If we add the percent in college and the percent in the labor force per gender then we get the following trends:

As you can see there, the total percent of the population working and/or in college has just recently about hit parity between the sexes.

For men I would conclude that the increased college attendance and decreased labor force are equal and opposite.    More men are going to college than joining the workforce.    On the other hand for women I'd say that rather than joining the workforce at a higher rate as is the general trend for women, more young women are instead going to college at even higher rates than their male peers.



  1. You may not have come across this BLS table, which shows the number of young people in college crossed with how many are employed full-time, part-time, unemployed, or not in the labor force. It is presented in numbers unadjusted for seasonal variation, which means it is hard to use it for any month-over-month comparisons:

    Employment Status of 16-24 year olds by school enrollment and educational attainment.

    I do not believe this table is available historically, but it does provide some idea as to how many young people are in school and working, not in school and not working, etc.

  2. Middle Molly,

    Thanks for the link. Thats interesting information. The table shows that 50% of the college students are in the labor force. I think I'll examine and present that info in a separate post.



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