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While the 1944 Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the G.I. Bill, has been instilled within the collective consciousness of the United States as one of the most overwhelmingly positive pieces of legislation in the nation’s history, there has been little empirical inquiry into the effect that it had on the non-veteran female. Both Marcus (2003) and Bound and Turner (2001) find that of the World War II veterans that obtained a higher education on the G.I. Bill, fully 20 percent of them, or 400,000, would not have attended college had it not been for the educational subsidy offered to them in the G.I. Bill. Might this extra boon in enrollment during the postwar era have affected females’ ability to pursue higher education?

Starting with an assessment of the dominant trends in mid-century higher education and the specific changes that were occurring for females in higher education, a foundation is established in Chapter Two upon which the effect that the retuning World War II veterans and the G.I. Bill had upon female’s mid-century enrollment in higher education institutions may be evaluated. In general, by the dawn of World War II, higher education was only secondary to labor market experience in its ability to improve the social and economic standing of females in society. If the G.I. Bill did, in fact, crowd out females’ ability to obtain a higher education, it did so at the expense of the social and economic standing of females of this era.

Subsequently, the direct quantitative consequences that the returning veterans had upon female enrollment and educational attainment during this era are examined in Chapters Three and Four. This is done after controlling for the effects that other phenomena occurring during the postwar era had on enrollment levels. Two datasets illuminate the main analysis: micro data obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Mature Women documenting the experiences of 5,083 women born between 1920 and 1935 and institutional level data from over 200 New York State Institutions between academic-years 1939-1940 and 1953-1954.

The empirical findings of Chapter Three demonstrate that at the peak of veteran’s enrollment in academic year 1947-1948, a female was less likely to enroll in an institution of higher education than a female of similar attributes during the later years of the war. Moreover, based upon the institutional analysis in Chapter Four, at any given academic institution, an increase in both relative and absolute veteran’s enrollment is associated with a decline in both relative and absolute female enrollment during the immediate postwar period. Females are also more likely to enroll in “lesser” institutions of higher education at this time, vis-à-vis the most prestigious schools. Together, empirical evidence from Chapter Three and Chapter Four suggest that the increase in veterans’ enrollment due to the G.I. Bill at least in part contributed to diminished attainment of females in higher education during the postwar era.

Finally, Chapter Five assesses how the effects of the G.I. Bill surprised the women’s movement during this time, and offers some concluding thoughts.


Suggested Citation
Nagowski, M. P. (2005). Inopportunity of gender: The G.I. Bill and the higher education of the American female, 1939-1954 (Honors dissertation). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

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