The Surprising Impact of High School Math on Job Market Outcomes


  1. Educational outcomes for individuals are closely related to those of their parents. Explain.
    • Almost 60 percent of students whose parents did not finish high school manage to surpass their parent’s education level by earning a high school diploma. However, attainment is even higher among the children of high school and college graduates. The high school graduation rate is 80 percent among students whose parents finished high school but did not attend college. Ninety-five percent of students whose parents have a college degree finish high school.
  2. Why does the author believe that a rigorous math background in high school increases educational attainment?
    • A rigorous math background directly satisfies admission requirements to college and better prepares students to succeed there. It also facilitates future educational investment. A rigorous math background increases individuals’ chance of completing high school; more importantly, it increases the chances of attending and completing college.
  3. Math attainment is strongly related to educational attainment, and individuals with higher education attainment do better in the labor market. Explain how this correlation provides a direct channel through which mathematics improves labor market outcomes.
    • The more math students take, the more they earn on average and the more likely they are to have a job. The median wage for full-time workers aged 20-30 who dropped out of high school after completing only Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, or less is $12.70 per hour. In contrast, dropouts with Geometry or Algebra II have a significantly higher median hourly wage of $14.36. Likewise, the unemployment rate for dropouts with less math is 33 percent, while for dropouts with more math, it is 27 percent. A similar pattern exists for high school graduates who did not attend college: Those with low levels of math are 50 percent more likely to be unemployed than those with higher levels of math.
  4. What effect did higher levels of math have on the employment status and income of high school graduates and high school dropouts who did not attend college?
    • High school graduates with low levels of math are 50 percent more likely to be unemployed than those with higher levels of math; typically, they earn about $1.30 less per hour. About 34 percent of workers who completed high school but took no college courses are in the low-math category, and 55 percent are in the high-math category. For both high school dropouts and high school graduates, higher levels of math lead to substantially better labor market outcomes, with increased levels of employment and increased earnings.
  5. What changes have occurred in high school math course requirements over the last 30 years? Why?
    • In 1982, 39 percent of high school graduates had completed Algebra or higher. By 2009, the number had almost doubled to 75 percent. The increase is attributed to more rigorous math requirements, which better prepare students for postsecondary education.
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  7. What other factors might explain why individuals who complete more advanced math studies have success later in life?