by NIcholas Kristof, published October 25, 2014
THE best escalator to opportunity in America is education. But a new study underscores that the escalator is broken.
We expect each generation to do better, but, currently, more young American men have less education (29 percent) than their parents than have more education (20 percent).
Among young Americans whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, only 5 percent make it through college themselves. In other rich countries, the figure is 23 percent.
The United States is devoting billions of dollars to compete with Russia militarily, but maybe we should try to compete educationally. Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country — a position once held by the United States, although we’re plunging in that roster.
These figures come from the annual survey of education from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., and it should be a shock to Americans.
A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility. But the American dream seems to have emigrated because many countries do better than the United States in educational mobility, according to the O.E.C.D. study.
As recently as 2000, the United States still ranked second in the share of the population with a college degree. Now we have dropped to fifth. Among 25-to-34-year-olds — a glimpse of how we will rank in the future — we rank 12th, while once-impoverished South Korea tops the list.