Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 11, 2019

Educational Attainment Continues to Increase

A few years ago we looked at educational attainment across generations here in Oregon. What it showed is that educational attainment is increasing over time. That is, Millennials are obtaining college degrees at higher rates than Gen X which did so at higher rates than Boomers and the like. In the latest Census data these trends continue. Millennials in Oregon today are well on their way to reaching and surpassing the 40% mark with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. In fact the 1985 birth cohort is currently sitting at 39% at age 32, while the 1990 birth cohort is at 36% at age 27, both of which are records for the fastest pace to reach these marks.

However, we also know two other items: Oregon is magnet state, and migration is strongest among young, college graduates. All of these facts combined have been gnawing in the back of my brain for years now. I have been curious as to the educational attainment of native born Oregonians. It is possible, even plausible that the rise in educational attainment across the state is largely driven by the in-migrants. Does Oregon’s lower high school graduation rate, shorter school year and the like impact outcomes for higher education as well? So to the data we turn.

I want to highlight this gap in attainment between migrants and the native born population to illustrate the compositional effect migration has on statewide totals and how migration may mask diverging trends. But first we must point out that Oregon-born Millennials have approximately the same, albeit slightly lower levels of educational attainment than their national counterparts. Today, 34.3% of Oregon-born 25-34 year olds hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, while the national figure is 35.6%. However, migrants moving into or out of Oregon have substantially higher levels of attainment as seen in the chart below. And given that the Oregon-born who leave the state have high levels of attainment, it means that the Oregon-born who remain here have lower levels. This is entirely due to the compositional effect of migration, which, again is all about young, college graduates. The gap is not necessarily about lower outcomes.

It is important to remember that Oregon is a magnet state. The inflow of young households is significantly larger than the outflow. Even with similar educational attainment among the movers going in either direction, Oregon’s educational attainment rises overall due to the net influx.

There are two pieces of good news here. First is that if we look at educational attainment of native born Oregonians, it is rising over time like national trends. Now, the chart below just looks at current Oregon resident who were also born in Oregon (my data download is missing those who moved out of state, but we know those folks have even higher rates of attainment). The gap between current residents born in Oregon and born outside of Oregon remains large (as seen in the first chart). This gap is 5-10 percentage points, but is not widening over time or by age cohort, or at least not in the available data.

The second piece of good news is that there does not appear to be a wage differential between the Oregon-born and migrants. Or at least not once we control for age, educational attainment, and occupation. This is important to keep in mind because one of the underlying goals of economic development is not just to improve job opportunities and outcomes overall, but to specifically improve them for a region’s current residents. As we touched on with Raj Chetty’s work on economic mobility, job growth by itself is not enough to improve outcomes. One reason is that economic conditions for current residents may remain relatively unchanged while new residents fill the newly created jobs. We know that the latter part does happen, but it is important to check in and see about the former. And at least in a preliminary look at wages among the prime working-age population in Oregon, this does not appear to be a significant issue.

Stay tuned, there is actually a tie-in of this look at educational attainment, migration and wages to some future work we’re doing.


  1. […] Source: Educational Attainment Continues to Increase | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

  2. […] Census Bureau data reviewed by state economists shows that Oregon’s millennial residents continue to earn bachelor and graduate degrees at rates much higher than older …, falling in line with national […]

  3. More education is certainly good for those who are getting it, but is society getting a good deal? I’m thinking about Bryan Caplan here. Josh, do you have an opinion on The Case against Education?

  4. […] Stay tuned as we will highlight some new research that touches on the impacts of this bad type of diversification and also ties in with the educational attainment, wages and migration discussed earlier this week. […]

  5. […] educational attainment is rising in Oregon (for both the Oregon-born and for in-migrants) this bodes well for future economic growth. The […]

  6. […] is in part because migrants have higher levels of educational attainment, but also in part because attainment is rising among those born in Oregon as well. But if we look beneath the statewide figures we see a lot more […]

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