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Eye-Opening Graphs Illustrating Income Today Vs. 1966 Show Education Matters More Than Ever

A college degree makes more difference now than ever

Much has been made of the fact that millennials have a tougher time earning a living than their baby boomer parents before them, but anecdotal evidence and supposition won’t take us very far in the examination of that claim. Fortunately, data will.

Nathan Yau at Flowing Data used 2016 figures pulled from the most recent study, the Current Population Survey, compared to figures from that same study taken 50 years ago in 1966.

As you can see in the plots below, the inflation-adjusted aggregations are broken out for young people (18-34 years old) without college degrees and for those with a college degree or higher.

The plots simplify the populations (now and then) into groups of 100 people, so there’s no need to adjust for population increase or decrease for the purpose of this exercise.

Here is the data from 1966:

Flowing Data

Here is the data from 2016:

Flowing Data

As you can see, the median income for young people has shrunken slightly for those with college degrees, but for those without college degrees, the decrease in earnings is more apparent, and the tail suggesting extraordinary income potential is much shorter than it was in 1966.

Further, the upside potential for younger college grads now appears to be much higher, per the elongated tail, than it was in 1966.

Meanwhile, among workers 34 years and older, there’s virtually no difference in earning between now and then, save for a shorter tail (meaning a lower ceiling) in 2016.

This is a simplification that doesn’t take into account a variety of factors, circumstances, and correlations, but it does show plainly enough, the median incomes for people young and old, now and then. The difference isn’t striking for college grads, but for those without a degree, earning potential looks much more depressed now than it did early in the baby boomers’ professional rise.

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