Generations through time: Education

Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

According to Dictionary.com, “generation” can be defined as “the entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time,” or “the term of years, roughly 30 among human beings, accepted as the average period between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring.” Other definitions of the term include shared ideas and attitudes.

Name Born Adult Survey we used
Boomers I
(Baby Boomers)
1946-1954 1963-1972 Census 1980
Boomers II
(Generation Jones)
1955-1965 1973-1983 Census 1990
Generation X 1966-1976 1988-1994 Census 2000
Generation Y 1977-1994 1998-2006 ACS 2007
Generation Z 1995-2012 2013-2020 ACS 2015

When talking about generations in the western world, terms like “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X” come to mind. These names originated from media authors and sociologists, but are now used in many other areas, such as marketing. Since there is no universal consensus or precise definition, we decided to use information from a marketing company resource.

Generation Z is growing rapidly in numbers, reaching 75 million in 2015. You may have noticed that although we defined Generation Z as being born before 2012, their numbers grew in recent years. This is due to sampling errors and other factors, so we consider later estimates to be more accurate.

Since many socio-economic conditions were different for each generation, it is interesting to see how they came out to be in quantitative terms. For today’s post, we selected educational background and employment. For each generation we selected a single survey, taken closest to their “coming-of-age” period, to see how many of them obtained a bachelor’s degree in college and were employed. We used the IPUMS USA service to pull data from multiple different surveys at once.

Generations X and Y were more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree as young adults — 4 percent more likely than previous generations. Among Generation Y, 27 percent had completed at least four years of college by 2007. This increase may be attributed in large part to women’s increasing participation: both Gen X and Gen Y women were more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than men, in contrast with previous generations. Thirty-one percent of Gen Y women had a bachelor’s degree in 2007, compared to 24 percent of men.

The second part of the Boomers generation had a 78 percent employment rate after 24, which is 4 percent higher than the previous generation. This number dropped to 75 percent for later generations. The change between two generations of Boomers is likely due to the higher rate of women taking jobs: women of Generation Jones were 10 percent more likely to be employed than before. This value stayed pretty similar in later generations; male employment dropped to 81 percent employment for Generation Y, compared to 87 percent for Boomers.

It will be interesting to see how things play out for the successors — Generation Z.

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About Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

Alexander is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science. He currently holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Applied Math. He has experience working for industry major companies performing research in the fields of machine learning, data mining and natural language processing. In his free time, Alexander enjoys hiking, Nordic skiing and traveling.

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