This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Maximizing the Value of Education

Even a casual glance at the index of my book will remind you that education cuts across all demographic phenomena. The better educated you are, the fewer children you are likely to have, the longer you are likely to live, the more likely you are to migrate to a better job, the less likely you are to get a divorce, and the more likely you are to arrive at old age with an above average level of wealth and well-being. But education is really a proxy for other things about you and your value to society. At the personal level, it means that you more likely to be "enlightened" in the broadest sense of the term. At the intersection of you and society, education is associated with achievement. This is the theme of a book reviewed in this week's Economist: "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character," by Paul Tough (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  Now, full disclosure: I have not yet read the book. I have only read the review in The Economist, but it resonates with my own thinking.

The book is about an experimental program called KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), in the South Bronx of New York City, designed to close the achievement gap between privileged and poor students. Students did well in the program, but then did not do nearly as well in college as expected.
The problem, he [Tough] writes, is that academic success is believed to be a product of cognitive skills—the kind of intelligence that gets measured in IQ tests. This view has spawned a vibrant market for brain-building baby toys, and an education-reform movement that sweats over test scores. But new research from a spate of economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and educators has found that the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses. The KIPP students who graduated from college were not the academic stars but the workhorses, the ones who plugged away at problems and resolved to do better.
I immediately recalled Malcolm Gladwell's population book "Outliers," in which he described the amount of work required to become an "expert" at something. Yes, some people are clearly born with more talent than others, but the key to being exceptional typically involves a lot of hard work. To be sure, some have scoffed a bit at Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, but the point is there nonetheless. Hard work increases the chance that you will achieve more than would otherwise be the case. And, when it is enlightened hard work, you and society are better off than before, and the demographic transition is in full bloom.

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