Publication Date

2014

Abstract

[Excerpt] Over the 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, women have made unprecedented strides in education to the point where they now outnumber men at every level of the higher education ladder. In 1964, only 40.7 percent of women enrolled in college after graduating from high school. Today, that figure is 70.2 percent, and there are roughly 240,000 more women in college than men. About 60 percent of all Associate’s and Master’s degrees go to female candidates, and the ratio is almost the same for Bachelor’s degrees. Women recently surpassed men in doctoral degrees awarded as well. All in all, the story of women’s access to higher education and their graduation rates in recent decades is one of remarkable success.

This paper examines a paradox: women in general are doing better in terms of educational attainment than ever before and yet still are failing to realize their full earnings potential, regardless of their educational level. Why, when we know that education is critical to women’s advancement, do so many women facing future economic insecurity fail to pursue any kind of education after high school? And even if they do pursue postsecondary education or training, why do so many women make choices for themselves that limit their lifetime earnings?

This paper also will identify some of the existing barriers that limit women’s educational success. We look at the life choices women make in school and in the workplace and how these choices influence wage outcomes. Further, we will examine the deep-seated biases and social pressures that cause so many women to gravitate to occupations, courses of study and college majors that offer relatively low pay and income insufficient to support a family. Finally we explore the implications of women’s educational success on intergenerational economic mobility and improved economic opportunities over time.

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Suggested Citation
Carnevale, A., & Smith, N. (2014). Women, jobs and opportunity in the 21st century. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor.

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