Statistics Canada released income data this morning from the 2011 National Household Survey. My initial reaction: is that all there is? I’ll have more on that in a moment.
From the perspective of university graduates, the news is good. According to the data, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher continue on average to enjoy “significant income advantages over their careers” compared to those with lower levels of education. The average salary for university graduates working full-time in 2010 was $80,500 a year. College and trades graduates earned an average salary of $54,000, while high school graduates earned almost half of university grads’ salaries, at $46,000.
The average income premium for university graduates working full-time compared to high school graduates was about 75%. The premium increases with age and work experience, rising from about 45% in the early stages of a career to double the income levels of high school graduates in the later stages.
The data release was somewhat disappointing, however, in that it seemed to be mostly at a very high aggregate level – at least, when compared to the labour force data released in June. For instance, what was released today isn’t enough to allow us to look at some of the issues that have been widely discussed in the past few weeks around income differentials by field of study or place of study (i.e., degrees earned in Canada versus those earned abroad) or differing backgrounds. There was also no breakdown for those with master’s degrees or PhDs.
As well, I found it somewhat curious that StatsCan decided to focus on high-income earners in their release. To be in the top 10% of earners in Canada, you needed to have a total income of around $80,400; for the top 5%, it was $102,300; and for the top 1%, it was $191,100. Perhaps not surprisingly, high-income Canadians tended to be highly educated – 67.1% of the top 1% had attained a university degree compared with 20.9% of all Canadians aged 15 and over.
And yet these data can never account for the fact that people with higher income potential put themselves on the university track.
What if you had a control group of randomly selected individuals who were not allowed to pursue higher education? How would their income compare?
The fact is most jobs and career tracks can be pursued without a bachelor’s degree. On the job learning is key.
For the most part, universities are a sorting and ranking mechanism for employers.