Nick Carraway, the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, remembers his father saying, “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone … just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”
What advantages? For starters, wealth, power, and in today’s developed world - college.
In the U.S., the college wage premium has risen rapidly since 1980 – causing a widening earnings gap between the college and non-college educated. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn over $800,000 more in lifetime income, on average, than those with high school diplomas. In the OECD, the college wage premium averages at 28 percent for male, full-time working employees - ranging from 18 per cent in Sweden to 50 per cent in the Slovak Republic.
As higher education expanded, college wage premiums were expected to decline. So why are they high and, often, increasing?
The consensus seems to point to increased computerization and automation in labor markets. Technology is expanding the demand for the college educated, at the expense of the non-college educated. This ‘job polarization’ in the labor market, manifests as the growth of high-education/high-wage jobs at the expense of middle-education/middle-wage jobs. This is increasingly visible not just in advanced economies, but also in the developing world. According to the Word Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, the share of middle-skilled employment is down in most developing countries for which detailed data are available.