Education and an aging population

Studies predict fewer teachers needed in Ontario, more "moderatist" profs in the United States

The aging populations of Canada and the United States will challenge the ability of the continent’s social programs and workforces to adapt to a huge crop of retirees and, ultimately, a younger workforce—and the education sector is no exception. According to one report, however, that transition has already come and gone among Ontario’s teachers. And according to another story in the New York Times, an aging American professoriate might lead to a vastly different political climate at U.S. universities and colleges.

Ontario’s education system may be experiencing the results of an aging population—and the declining number of young people—according to a Sault Star article. It pointed to a sizable surplus of teachers in the province’s primary and secondary education system.

The Star said that 12,670 teachers were certified last year, but only 5,325 retired. Unlike other industries where that trend is reversed most of the baby-boom retirements—7,000 a year—happened between 1998 and 2002.

A 1995 Statcan survey also found that teachers retire young—before they are 60 years old, on average. They make above-average income, the report stated, which allows them to leave work sooner than their counterparts in other occupational categories.

At the time, the Statscan study said that even in 1995, universities might be training too many teachers based on the projected demand. Recent teaching grads are now having trouble finding jobs. 56 per cent of Ontario’s newest teachers could not find employment, according to the Ontario College of Teachers.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported recently that observers in the U.S. are concerned about the aging university professoriate. In 1969, only 22.5 per cent of professors were over the age of 50. Now, that number has jumped to 54 per cent. Only 10 per cent are 35 and under.

How quickly aging professors retire has much to do with “personal preferences and health, as well as how their pensions fare in the financial markets”, according to the Times.

The story explores the change in ideology that might be occurring among professors. The baby-boom generation attended university themselves during the 1960s, when social and political norms were challenged. National Association of Scholars executive director Peter W. Wood said that older professors are more likely to describe themselves as liberal than their younger counterparts. As they retire, liberals might become less abundant in front of classrooms.

UBC researcher Neil Gross participated in a study that looked at the political leanings of professors. He and co-author Solon Simmons wrote that their study shows support for the idea that, “in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism.”