Gender, Education, and Work

Go to college and earn a degree. You will be better situated for life success. Or, so goes the line of thought. 


Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics largely support this rationale, as earnings from college degree holders is substantially higher than their peers whose highest education is some college or a high school degree. 

But, returns are not the same among all college degree holders, or so suggests a recent analysis from the Pew Research Center. The research agency analyzed data from the US Census Bureau, examining gender differences, job held, and degree earned. 

There were several key findings stemming from their analysis. First, more than ever before, college-educated women are entering the workforce. In fact, women are now the majority when it comes to employees with a college degree. 

This trend is consistent with women’s general educational attainment. In 1981, women earned more college degrees than men did, and today, they earn 57 percent of all degrees. 

But have these changes resulted in better pay equity? The short answer is, no. Women continue to earn a fraction of what men do. In 2018, they earned 85 cents on the dollar, relative to men. 

The return for a college education also varies. Men see about a 51 percent bump for such credentialing, but women only see a 43 percent gain. Put another way, the financial return for a college degree is greater for men than for women. 

Women are also under-represented in some professions, such as computing and engineering. These jobs typically demand high salaries. 

Overall, the findings suggest that strides have been made, but more work is needed. One solution is to increase the pay in professions where women are highly concentrated, such as nursing, health professions, and teaching. Another option is to recruit and retain women in those jobs where high pay is the norm, such as many STEM fields.