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The Race between Education and Technology Paperback – April 29, 2010

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674035300 ISBN-10: 0674035305

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Editorial Reviews


This book represents the best of what economics has to offer, combining a broad theoretical perspective, careful consideration of data, detailed lessons from economic history, and a close look at the present. (Alan Krueger, Princeton University)

A masterful work by two leading economists on some of the biggest issues in economics: economic growth, human capital, and inequality. There are fundamental insights in the book, not just about our past but also our future. Rigorous but not overly technical, this beautifully written book will appeal to educated lay people and economists alike. (Steven D. Levitt, University of Chicago, co-author of Freakonomics)

The Race Between Education and Technology will stand as the definitive treatment of changes in income distribution and their causes, as well as of possible countervailing policies towards rising inequality. This is empirical economic scholarship at its finest. (Lawrence Summers, Harvard University)

A staggering achievement of historical research and analysis and required reading for anyone who's tired of glib, ideologically-inspired, trendy prescriptions for how to fix America's education system. (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind)

An impressive combination of extensive historical research, careful empirical analysis, and thoughtful commentary on one of the most important questions of the day: to what extent does increasing inequality in incomes stem from our failure to increase educational attainment? (William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation)

The Race Between Education and Technology is a most important study, both for what it teaches us about the past and also in presenting policies for the future if America is to regain its world leadership in education. (Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester)

If you want to understand the causes of the innovation deficit, I’d recommend adding one serious book to your summer reading list: The Race Between Education and Technology. (David Leonhardt New York Times 2008-07-02)

This is the most important book on modern U.S. inequality to date. (Tyler Cowen 2008-07-04)

[Goldin and Katz] tackle the most important U.S. economic trend, and, hence, most critical domestic issue--growing income inequality...[America] now has the most unequal income and wage distributions of any high-income nation...Goldin and Katz's careful documentation of the changes in income distribution is an important public service. This alone would make their book essential reading. Yet they also offer a powerful explanation for what has driven changes in income inequality and point to solutions for addressing it...The good news is that if Goldin and Katz are right, the cure for income inequality is one most Americans would intuitively support: improving mass education. Mr Obama's spin-doctors should start translating Goldin and Katz's book into a campaign slogan at once. (Chrystia Freeland Financial Times 2008-08-25)

One of the most important books of the year. (Nicholas D. Kristof New York Times 2008-11-13)

Masterful...As the book's title suggests, whether inequality increases or not is best thought of as an ongoing race between education and technology. Combining this simple but appealing idea with a deep knowledge of the histories of the U.S. labor market and educational institutions, Goldin and Katz conclude that whereas education was winning the race for most of the 20th century, technology caught up in the 1970s and has since prevailed. The authors' most insightful point is that the root cause of the recent growth in inequality is not faster technological progress during the past three decades but rather the surprising stagnation in the level of education of young Americans. (Thomas Lemieux Science 2008-09-26)

The Race Between Education and Technology contains many tables, a few equations and a powerfully told story about how and why the United States became the world's richest nation--namely, thanks to its schools...Beginning in the 1970s, however, the education system failed to keep pace, resulting, Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz contend, in a sharply unequal nation...It is nice to be reminded, in a data-rich book, that greater investments in human capital once put Americans collectively on top of the world. (Stephen Kotkin New York Times 2008-10-05)

Essential reading...Goldin and Katz give a broad historical view of the role of education in economic growth in the U.S. They make the case that, after a century of leading the world in supplying the educated workers needed to serve technology, the U.S. has fallen behind in education. (Thomas F. Cooley Forbes 2008-11-26)

Goldin's and Katz's thesis is that the 20th century was the American century in large part because this country led the world in education. The last 30 years, when educational gains slowed markedly, have been years of slower growth and rising inequality. (David Leonhardt New York Times Magazine 2009-02-01)

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz establish a clear link between the number of high school and college graduates produced in any modern society and its economic growth. (Thomas D. Elias Appeal-Democrat 2009-02-16)

[Goldin and Katz] combine an acute sense of history with a skillful use of statistics. (Andrew Hacker New York Review of Books 2009-04-30)

During the 20th century both technology and education raced forward in the US, generating massive economic expansion and rising standards of living. Throughout the century, technological changes increased the relative demand for skilled labor, while the rapid expansion of first high schools and then higher education simultaneously increased the relative supply of skilled labor. Goldin and Katz carefully examine the historical and economic forces behind this expansion in education, extracting crucial evidence from the remarkable Iowa State Census of 1915, and they argue very plausibly that the relative demand for skilled labor grew at a fairly constant rate over the century. They conclude that "education ran faster" than technology "during the first half of the century," causing a considerable drop in economic inequality, but that "technology sprinted ahead of limping education in the last 30 years," leading to the recent upsurge in inequality. The rate of return on educational investments has become, once again, very high. Why have education levels increased so sluggishly in the face of these massive rewards? The answers are not entirely clear, nor are the optimal public policies, but the authors offer much food for thought. A must read. (R. M. Whaples Choice 2008-12-01)

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have produced a definitive economic history of American education...[It's] tightly reasoned and easy to grasp by anyone who cares about the country's educational history. (Peter H. Lindert 2008-11-01)

The general brilliance of illumination makes this book a feast of provocation. (Trevor Butterworth 2010-03-24)

Goldin and Katz's book is excellent. (Jim Manzi New Republic 2010-09-05)

One of the most comprehensive analyses of the spread of the American educational system throughout the 20th century. (Eduardo Porter New York Times 2013-11-05)


This book represents the best of what economics has to offer, combining a broad theoretical perspective, careful consideration of data, detailed lessons from economic history, and a close look at the present. (Alan Krueger, Princeton University) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674035305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674035300
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Michael Bishop on March 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Three stars? This book is undervalued by the current amazon reviews. In my opinion, a majority of books about education are downright bad. Of those that are good, many are not uniquely good - you can find the same information in other popular books on education. This book is good and unique.

This book is excellent on the links between education, productivity, and income inequality over the last century. It makes the case that increasing human capital through education is a very important goal - the claim is not original but the way they argue it is.

The policy recommendations are less well backed up.

Google for an excellent commentary written by Arnold Kling & John Merrifield, entitled "Goldin and Katz and Educational Policy Failures in Historical Perspective."
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61 of 73 people found the following review helpful By EWC on November 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I found this book fascinating and would recommend it although I found it frustratingly flawed, and therefore, without the authors' further comments, will eventually have to reduce my 4 star rating. The book's core thesis is that the rate of technological change in the 20th century has been constant, while the supply of skilled workers has been uneven, leading to expanding and contracting wage differentials between skilled and unskilled workers over the course of the century. The variation in supply and correlation to changes in relative wages seems large enough to be convincing. But while I find the case persuasive, I couldn't help but feel it was, in part, reserve engineered to reach its conclusion. It seemed to me that three critical issues remained either unwittingly or intentionally overlooked.

In part, large part perhaps, I would guess, the "skill" of a worker transcends their education. So a high school drop out today, when most everyone graduates from high school, represents a much less skilled worker than a drop out at the turn of the century, when very few graduated. To suggest the ratio of wages between high school graduates and drop outs today can be compared to the past without some adjustment, or even mention of an adjustment, that take this into consideration, seems lacking. The same is true of college graduates, where the meaning of the term has been averaged down. The analysis seems to suggest that a college or high school graduate is equivalent no matter what (changing) percentile of the population it encompasses or, more complicated mathematically, that the relative curve across percentiles is such that any point is logarithmically proportional to any other.
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98 of 134 people found the following review helpful By Devin Finbarr on February 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book epitomizes everything that is wrong with social science. The modus operandi is to pull together a series of charts showing correlations, assume that the correlation is due to causation, and ignore any discussion of alternative explanations of the trends.

Goldin-Katz spend the bulk of the book hammering away on two points that everyone already knows: years of schooling on a national level correlates with industrialization, and years of schooling on a personal level correlates with income. Goldin-Katz spend precious few pages actually dealing with the causation issue, and never address any of the best arguments against their thesis. Nor is there any attempt to actually talk to people working in technology in order to understand more deeply why the correlation exists.

Let's examine in detail some of the flaws.

a) Goldin-Katz's base hypothesis is that years of schooling should continuously rise over time, as technology increases. But the very definition of technology is that you get more output for a given amount of input. Thus we should not expect a proportional increase in education to take advantage of new technology. Indeed, this is what we see on the ground. As a programmer in 2009, I no longer need to learn a huge amount of information that my father needed to know. For my job, I do not need to assembly language, register hacks, memory allocation, pointer arithmetic, etc.

b) Goldin-Katz's hypothesis is at odds with the experience of all the recent college graduates I know. No one believes that education teaches job skills. A quick check of the top 10 most popular college majors shows that these majors have little to do with technology.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This well written book is based on a careful analysis of the effects of educational policy on economic growth and economic inequality in the USA over the last century. The authors have undertaken the very demanding task of reconstructing a large amount of data related to eduational performance and economic performance. In some respects this is a fairly dense book with a lot of data presented, usually in the form of tables and simple charts, though the authors use some multivariate regression methods and some modeling as well. The authors necessarily use some simplifying assumptions and methods, for example, using the benefits of higher education - the college wage premium - as an index of inequality. Given the limitations of the data and the complexity of the topic, these approaches seem reasonable and the end result is a convincing analysis.

Goldin and Katz make a series of important points. One is that a well educated work force is an important driver of economic improvement. In this context, the show that the USA, from the mid-19th century to around 1970, was a world leader in mass education. They show 3 major waves of mass educational advancement; near universal primary education in the 19th century, a huge increase secondary education ("the high school movement") in the first half of the 20th century, and the enormous expansion of higher education in the post-WWII era. The authors argue very well that this distinctively American series of educational expansions were a major contributor to robust American economic growth. Simultaneously, the success of serial mass education and production of increasing numbers of well educated workers resulted in a relative reduction in inequality with social benefits beyond merely economic benefits.
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