‘Education inflation’ hurts Swedes’ job prospects

While education is important to young Swedes' chances of finding work, more education does not necessarily translate into more success in the labour market, argues liberal commentator Nima Sanandaji.

We live in a time when digitalization, international competition, and a shift towards a more knowledge intensive economy are creating a great surge in global well-being. But these same factors are also making it increasingly difficult for those with lower academic credentials to find employment. The problem is particularly vivid in a country like Sweden, where high taxes, generous public benefits and high effective minimum wages create significant barriers to entering the labour market.

So it comes as no surprise that both the politicians on both the right and the left are so concerned with how to create a more inclusive job market. Both sides also embrace the idea that more education is the key for finding work. But although qualitative education is a great aid for individuals, more education does not necessarily translate into more success in the labour market.

So how can it be that more education doesn’t mean better employment prospects? Let me explain.

Not long ago, many Swedes began their working lives around the age of 20. Today, however, it is more common for workers in Sweden to enter the labour market when they are around 28. An important reason is that Swedes nowadays spend many more years educating themselves. In general, of course, an academic degree is a great door opener in the modern labour market. Not only can one gain valuable knowledge through continued education, but a diploma is also a vital signaling mechanism in to potential employers. Since companies and organizations often lack perfect information about individual job seekers, they often base hiring decisions on who has the highest level of education. In many cases, employers reason that the person with an academic degree is smarter and harder working than someone with a lower level education.

At the same time, it is clear that many young Swedes who are today studying certain disciplines within the social sciences such as gender or media theory, or perhaps art history or similar courses struggle to find qualified work after graduation. This situati