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Beryl Lieff Benderly

A Shortage of Pro Athletes?

“When was the last time we saw a shortage of investment bankers, lawyers, brain surgeons, or pro athletes?”  That intriguing question was posed on the blog of David Finegold, Dean of the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations.  “Our young people are lining up to compete for these positions,” he writes, because “we’re prepared to pay top dollar in these professions.” 

Quoting data presented by labor force expert Hal Salzman at a recent conference, Finegold notes that the same is true for scientific and technical fields when the pay is also good enough.  Shortages of petroleum engineers (a real shortage this time!) have caused starting salaries to shoot up from $56,000 to $86,000 in the last few years.  And guess what those supposedly science-averse American students have been doing about it?  Why, flocking to enroll in petroleum engineering programs, which have seen the number of US students more than double in four years.
“The supply of graduates in the US is very responsive to changing wage-levels,” Finegold writes.  Of course, you don’t need to be dean of a management school to suspect that that may be true.  Economics 101 ought to be enough to let you know that the law of supply and demand works when it is allowed to.  In fields where there are actual shortages, wages rise, and when they do, more people are attracted to enter those fields.  American students are, as this case shows — and as labor market experts been saying for years — staying away from scientific careers not because they can’t do science, but because they don’t see that it leads to promising opportunities.  When they do see that, as Finegold says, they’ll “stand in line” for the chance.  You can read the blog post here.