New Study Shows Gains for College-Educated Women In the Workforce

The United States has reached a significant milestone in the workforce. According to a recent Pew Research study, the number of college-educated women in the workplace exceeds men who are similarly educated. In the first quarter of 2019, approximately 29.5 million women possessed a Bachelor’s degree compared to 29.3 million college educated men. This information is obtained from an analysis of US Department of Labor Statistics.

Women’s gains in the workplace are important because of the correlation between education and income. The earning potential with a college degree is significantly higher than without one. For example, the average worker in 2017 made $41,900, but a worker with a Bachelor’s degree earned $61,300. For women, the average non-college-educated woman earned $36,000 while a college-educated woman made an average salary of $51, 600. The earning increase for men with a Bachelor’s degree is higher than women. Non-college-educated men made $50,000 versus $74,900 for college-educated men. College-educated workers also generate 57% of the economy’s wealth.

Women now comprise 50.2 % of the college-educated workforce. They composed only 45.1% in 2000.

Women, however, still comprised only half (46.7%) of the total workforce aged 25 and older, according to the Pew Research Center. The struggle to obtain this milestone, however, has been a long time in the making. Despite being the majority of college-educated people, women have taken over a decade to reach parity. Women received half of the Bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S as early as 1982. Their numbers increased to 57% in 2007.

Some observers have asked why it has taken 10 years for women to achieve workforce parity, at least in numbers, according to the Pew Research Center. Experts have suggested the main factor is work force participation. Women are less likely than men to be in the workforce because college-educated women face challenges in the workplace that men do not. Childbearing is one such factor. Women often leave the workplace to offset the cost of childcare. In an interview with Market Watch, Chandra Childers, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research emphasized the unique challenges women with children face in the labor market. "If it costs more to get quality child care, well it may be just cheaper for them to take time out of the labor market themselves," Childers noted. “If they lack the flexibility to be able to balance work and family, it may just make more sense for them to stay out of the labor force.”

Although women make up the majority of the college-educated workforce, this does not suggest that gender and pay equity have been achieved. Much work remains to be done. Today, women remain clustered in occupations with lower wages (in relation to men in these fields), including medical technicians, dental hygienists, occupational therapists, nutritionists, therapists, and physicians’ assistants.

Women's representation lags significantly behind that of men in medical fields where the pay is higher. These jobs include optometrists, podiatrists, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and veterinarians.

The trend is evident in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) occupations. Women make up smaller percentages of computer and mathematical workers as well as engineers and architects. They are disproportionately clustered in clerical positions, especially office and administrative support, according to the Pew Research Center.

This clustering, which experts call occupational segregation, result in significant drawbacks for women. The wage is lower than comparable male-dominated occupations and they make less than the men in the same occupations. While women comprise the majority of college-educated workers in our current workforce, much work remains to be done to ensure they have equal access to the occupations of their choice and receive comparable wages to men in the workforce.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.