Women Reap More Benefits From Higher Education, Study Finds
By Patricia Troumpoucis
COLLEGE PARK, Md.
Higher education offers a variety of benefits, both economic and non-economic, and women seem to reap much bigger economic benefits from earning an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree than their male counterparts, according to a new study. The study’s author said this revelation could shed some light on why the numbers of women in college are swelling — women, she said, perceive a larger payoff to pursuing postsecondary education than men do.
The study, “The Benefits of Higher Education: Sex, Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Group Differences,” was conducted by Dr. Laura Perna, associate professor of education policy and leadership at the University of Maryland. Perna drew on data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Educational Longitudinal Study that followed more than 9,000 students who graduated in 1992 and were interviewed from time to time until 2000.
By looking at gender, race and socioeconomic status, Perna said she wanted to focus on understanding the differences in college-enrollment rates across different groups and what the benefits of higher education mean to each group.
“(I wanted) to try and understand the extent to which the benefits of attending higher education vary across groups,” Perna said. “A means of perhaps identifying a rationale for why some groups might be less likely to enroll in college than others.”
While men receive the majority of first-professional degrees and doctorates, the study reports that women are now the recipients of the majority of associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
The study found that more women earned degrees than men: 41 percent of women had earned a bachelor’s degree by 2000, compared to 33 percent of men; meanwhile, only 12 percent of women didn’t pursue any type of postsecondary education, compared to 17 percent of men who didn’t.
The study reported marked differences in income between women who earn an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree versus those who didn’t.
“Although men who attain an associate’s, bachelor’s, or advanced degree average incomes that are comparable to incomes of men with no postsecondary education … women who attain an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree average incomes that are 32, 45, and 81 percentage points higher, respectively, than women with no postsecondary education,” the study says.
“It’s that difference in the ‘premium.’ So for women, there seems to be a greater payoff relative to not going to college,” Perna said. “It may have to do with differences in the types of opportunities and the labor market’s participation of women who attain associate’s or bachelor’s degrees relative to women who don’t.”
Perna said women also tend to think that women with postsecondary degrees are more likely to succeed, and that a degree contributes to an increase in salary. Although, Perna emphasizes that this doesn’t mean women are earning more than men.
“It’s important to realize the average earnings for men and women with different levels of degree attainment. You see that earnings are higher for men than for women at all levels,” Perna said.
The study also looked at racial/ethnic differences and socioeconomic differences.
Asians, Whites and those with a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to earn degrees than African Americans and Hispanics, according to the study. At the same time, 51 percent of Asians and 41 percent of Whites completed a bachelor’s degree by 2000, while only 25 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Hispanics had done so. More individuals at the highest socioeconomic levels received bachelor’s degrees, as well — 69 percent of students in the top quartile compared to 14 percent in the lowest quartile.
High school graduates who attained a higher level of education averaged higher incomes than those who didn’t, as well as a greater likelihood of health insurance coverage, more job satisfaction and a greater likelihood of working for an employer who offers a retirement plan, the study showed.
The study also reported non-economic benefits of higher education, including smoking and drinking. “High school graduates who attained an associate’s, bachelor’s or advanced degree are 9, 14 and 15 percentage points, respectively, less likely than their counterparts with no postsecondary education to smoke,” the study says. Incidentally, the smoking “premium” is greater among women than men.
While smoking seems to decline with an increase in postsecondary education, the consumption of alcoholic beverages seems to increase. The numbers rise “from 56 percent of high school graduates with no postsecondary education to more than three-fourths of high school graduates who attained a bachelor’s degree,” according to the study.
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