Column: Book reports falling pay for better educated

Statistics from US and New Zealand sources suggest wages are falling as workers become more educated.

False Economy, a book written by Anne Else (co-founder of Broadsheet magazine) has highlighted some interesting statistics about the New Zealand job market.

One of the more eye-catching is that education is not actually producing better pay for many people, as borne out by data collected here and in the US.

This goes against everything we are taught--that a good education will get you a better paying job and that renewing skills and retraining will enhance your career and your salary.

But US and New Zealand Labour Department research indicates otherwise, according to False Economy (Tandem Press): in the US Professor David Howell says the proportion of highly skilled employees on low wages is growing. “For example, the communications industry has seen its low-skill share of jobs go down by 3%. Yet its low-wage share has gone up by 33%. Now only 39% of its employees are low-skilled, but 71% are low-paid.”

New Zealand seems to follow a similar pattern, according to recent Labour Department research quoted in the book. It shows real before-tax earnings of wage and salary earners went down in the decade between 1984 and 1994.

“Median hourly earnings fell by 8% and median weekly earnings fell by 4.5%. Between 1984 and 1994, the New Zealand median hourly wage for the unskilled fell by 9.6%. It fell by 11.6% for those with school qualifications and by 10.9% for those with trade or other tertiary qualifications. But it fell by 16.4% for those with university qualifications. Most of this fall for the best qualified happened between 1990 and 1994.”

Another interesting statistic was the suggestion that New Zealand office workers are among the most stressed in the world, according to an unnamed “large-scale 1994 survey covering 18 countries”.

Else says the survey showed work was a major cause of stress to 65% of the New Zealand respondents and 46% said work-related stress had grown worse over the past two years:

“Being too busy, having too much to do or too few staff were given by 58% of Kiwis as the main causes. A quarter did not feel they were treated like a person at work, rather like a cog in a wheel. Worldwide only 15% felt that way. Nearly a third--32%--said they did a lot of work which was unnecessary and wasted time. Around the world, 27% felt similar frustration.”

The main argument of the book is that employees and employers must start to work together to fit family time in with market time. Child care, parental leave (paid and unpaid), flexible working hours and simply providing workers with the chance to get enough rest and exercise are all issues still largely unresolved in New Zealand--and around the world.

Else calls for employers to consider the long-term benefits of accommodating employees’ family and personal needs in return for company loyalty, increased productivity and a more harmonious workplace environment.

The book may be too anecdotal and imprecisely sourced for some, but it certainly raises many issues and ideas which need to be discussed in today’s workplace and society.

(Keenan is Computerworld’s careers editor. She can be contacted by email at

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