The Great Recession made us poorer.
It may also have made us smarter. And more likely to live longer.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people in the U.S. with doctoral degrees jumped 40 percent between 2008 and 2013, while the number with master’s degrees rose 18 percent and the number with associates degrees rose 33 percent – rates of growth faster than in the prior four year period.
A press release accompanying the latest data on educational attainment also noted that the number of people with some graduate education had increased 24 percent.
Among economists and social scientists who study recessions, that result is expected. One rational response to a poor job market or a layoff is to stay in school (or go back to it) and use the time to develop skills that are in demand.
Recent research by Andrew Barr and Sarah E. Turner at the University of Virginia, published in an edition of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, noted that a quick upturn in college enrollment coincided with the financial crisis and economic downturn.
“Even as demand for many goods and services tends to decline during a recession, demand for postsecondary education tends to increase,” the two wrote.
Judging from the Census data, that appears to be paying off in degrees awarded.
One other possible upside of the downturn is what other researchers expect will show up as a decline in overall mortality during the recession years. Data haven’t confirmed it yet, wrote the University of Michigan’s Sarah A. Burgard and two others.
But past recessions have coincided with a decline in overall death rates, a trend broadly attributed to things like fewer traffic accidents (not as many people are rushing to work; and if they drink they are more likely to stay home rather than go to a bar and drive home intoxicated). There is more time for exercise, and improved nutrition as families economize on food.
That, of course, is offset by the strains a recession puts on individuals and families – suicide rates tend to climb, the stress of long-term unemployment is unhealthy, and that giant Cheesecake Factory plate of pasta may actually be swapped for McDonalds rather than a balanced home-cooked meal.
But Burgard said that the expectation is that, as the data are more closely analyzed, “we expect some reduction in overall mortality” during the recession.