February 02, 2017

Predicting the Future and Getting a Job

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Demography is a useful tool for being able to make projections about the future based on the composition of the population. It’s not just the size of a population that matters, but who makes up a population. Population projections are useful in a number of ways, especially for economists and policy analysts, who might use data on populations to predict a country’s needs. It is also useful to think about for those who might be thinking about future careers. Demography can inform us years in advance about what jobs might be available in larger numbers, and which jobs might be in decline, technological advances aside.

One factor that enables researchers to make predictions is the age distribution in a society. Having a declining birth rate means that the number of births per 1,000 women age 15-44 is dropping. Birth rates decline for a number of reasons, including economic factors, increased educational attainment, delayed marriage and the availability of contraception.

Children born during a period of declining birth rates might have smaller class sizes and possibly have a slightly easier time getting into college if there is less competition. This also means that fewer jobs in academia might be available in the future. A smaller birth cohort could also mean that fewer products are marketed and sold for people in that age group due to a shrinking market.

In the U.S. and other wealthy nations where the birth rate is falling, we might predict that in coming years there will be a decreased need for daycare workers, teachers, pediatricians, and other child-centered occupations. Child-centered recreation could see declines too. Places like amusement parks might need to work on drawing older visitors as the population of children shrinks. But other factors might mean job openings, especially if many of the current workers in these fields are expected to retire.

By contrast, having an aging population predicts that over time a greater proportion of a country’s population will be 65 or older. Populations age when death rates decline, thanks to medical advances, the availability of healthy food, clean water, and other life-prolonging factors. Wealthier nations, not surprisingly, tend to have populations with longer life expectancies and lower birth rates.

What kinds of jobs might become available as a population ages? Health-related fields will likely see growth, including home health aides and other types of care giving. As people have fewer children, there may be a growing need for facilities for elderly people who can no longer care for themselves and may not have family to help. Companies might focus on producing goods that address the needs of older people.

We don’t have to guess which jobs might see growth in the near future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates these data for us. If you take a look at their table, one field that is predicted to grow by 28.6% in the next decade is audiology, health professionals that test and treat hearing loss. Similarly, the need for genetic counselors is expected to increase by about the same amount.

Using the current age distribution of a particular occupation, we can predict when there might be a growing need for workers, not based on increased demand but on decreased supply of workers.

Your own career choices should be driven by more than just labor market forecasts. After all, even a shrinking profession will still exist, and your talents and passions still matter. But our career decisions take place in very specific economic and demographic contexts.

Take a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections. Do any surprise you? How might they reflect future population shifts? How might these changes impact your own future career trajectory?


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