Eight percent of the population now holds Master’s degrees, the same percentage that held bachelor’s degrees (or higher) in the 1960s, reports Vox. Master’s degrees in education were by far the most popular, holding at around a third to a quarter of all such degrees from 1971 to 2012, though MBAs had taken the top spot by 2010. In fact, the increase in the number of MBA degrees is astonishing: Only 11.2 percent of master’s degrees were in business in 1971, but in 2012, they were a whopping 25.4 percent.
The rise of the master’s degree is likely a product of credential inflation. As more and more people acquire bachelor’s degrees, those who wish to make themselves stand out go on to get the MA. And as Vox points out, while a Master’s degree does have a positive impact on earnings, the overall debt of people with undergraduate and Master’s degrees has grown markedly in the past decade. In fact, as we recently noted, graduate student debt is in large part driving the student loan crisis.
Employers are also likely to use degrees as screening tools, eliminating people who don’t have a certain level of education in order to expedite the selection process—regardless of whether the advanced degree is really necessary for the job. But we shouldn’t want an economy that favors people with polished résumés over people with good ideas. This data is not a good sign for our economic health.