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Cashier or Consultant? Entry Labor Market Conditions, Field of Study, and Career Success

In: Labor Markets in the Aftermath of the Great Recession

Listed author(s):
  • Joseph G. Altonji
  • Lisa B. Kahn
  • Jamin D. Speer

We analyze the early labor market outcomes of U.S. college graduates from the classes of 1974 to 2011, as a function of the economic conditions into which they graduated. We have three main findings. First, poor labor market conditions substantially disrupt early careers. A large recession at time of graduation reduces earnings by roughly 10% in the first year, for the average graduate. The losses are driven partially by a reduced ability to find employment and full-time work and partially by a roughly 4% reduction in hourly wage rates. Second, these effects differ by field of study. Those in majors with typically higher earnings experience significantly smaller declines in most labor market outcomes measured. As a result, the initial earnings and wage gaps across college majors widen by almost a third and a sixth, respectively, for those graduating into a large recession. Most of these effects fade out over the first 7 years. Those in higher paying majors are also slightly less likely to obtain an advanced degree when graduating into a recession, consistent with their relative increase in opportunity cost. Our third set of results focuses on a recent period that includes the Great Recession. Early impacts on earnings are much larger than what we would have expected given past patterns and the size of the recession, in part because of a large increase in the cyclical sensitivity of demand for college graduates. The effects also differ much less by field of study than those of prior recessions.

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This chapter was published in:
  • David Card & Alexandre Mas, 2016. "Labor Markets in the Aftermath of the Great Recession," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number card13-1.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 13276.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:13276
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    1. Kory Kroft & Fabian Lange & Matthew J. Notowidigdo, 2013. "Duration Dependence and Labor Market Conditions: Evidence from a Field Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(3), pages 1123-1167.
    2. Abigail Wozniak, 2010. "Are College Graduates More Responsive to Distant Labor Market Opportunities?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(4), pages 944-970.
    3. Hershbein Brad J., 2012. "Graduating High School in a Recession: Work, Education, and Home Production," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-32, January.
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    5. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
    6. Joseph G. Altonji & Anthony A. Smith Jr. & Ivan Vidangos, 2013. "Modeling Earnings Dynamics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 81(4), pages 1395-1454, July.
    7. Joseph G. Altonji & Erica Blom & Costas Meghir, 2012. "Heterogeneity in Human Capital Investments: High School Curriculum, College Major, and Careers," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 4(1), pages 185-223, July.
    8. Paul J . Devereux, 2002. "Occupational Upgrading and the Business Cycle," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 16(3), pages 423-452, September.
    9. Ayako Kondo, 2015. "Differential effects of graduating during a recession across gender and race," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 4(1), pages 1-24, December.
    10. Josh Kinsler & Ronni Pavan, 2015. "The Specificity of General Human Capital: Evidence from College Major Choice," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(4), pages 933-972.
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    12. Robert H. Topel & Michael P. Ward, 1992. "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(2), pages 439-479.
    13. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 2002. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(1), pages 88-97, January.
    14. Marianne Bertrand & Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2010. "Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Financial and Corporate Sectors," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 228-255, July.
    15. Paul Oyer, 2006. "Initial Labor Market Conditions and Long-Term Outcomes for Economists," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(3), pages 143-160, Summer.
    16. Philip Oreopoulos & Till von Wachter & Andrew Heisz, 2012. "The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 1-29, January.
    17. Matthew T. Johnson, 2013. "The Impact of Business Cycle Fluctuations on Graduate School Enrollment," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 77da29f047574fbfb5f216d63, Mathematica Policy Research.
    18. Beaudry, Paul & DiNardo, John, 1991. "The Effect of Implicit Contracts on the Movement of Wages over the Business Cycle: Evidence from Micro Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(4), pages 665-688, August.
    19. Johnson, Matthew T., 2013. "The impact of business cycle fluctuations on graduate school enrollment," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 122-134.
    20. Bedard, Kelly & Herman, Douglas A., 2008. "Who goes to graduate/professional school? The importance of economic fluctuations, undergraduate field, and ability," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 197-210, April.
    21. Stevens, Ann Huff, 1997. "Persistent Effects of Job Displacement: The Importance of Multiple Job Losses," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 165-188, January.
    22. Sarah E. Turner & William G. Bowen, 1999. "Choice of Major: The Changing (Unchanging) Gender Gap," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(2), pages 289-313, January.
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