, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 1-24

Gender-specific trends in the value of education and the emerging gender gap in college completion

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Analysis of March Current Population Survey data from 1964 through 2002 shows that white women overtook white men in their rates of college completion and that this phenomenon occurred during a period in which women’s standard-of-living gains from college completion grew at a faster rate than those for men. We assess whether these trends are related to changes in the value of education for men and women in terms of earnings returns to higher education, the probability of getting and staying married, education-related differences in family standard of living, and insurance against living in poverty. Although returns to a college education in the form of earnings remained higher for women than for men over the entire period, trends in these returns do not provide a plausible explanation for gender-specific trends in college completion. But when broader measures of material well- being are taken into account, women’s returns to higher education appear to have risen faster than those of men.

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2003 ISA Research Committee 28 (Social Stratification) meeting in New York City and at the 2004 annual meeting of the Population Association of America. We thank Troy Powell for his able research assistance. We acknowledge support from the Arts and Sciences Council of Duke University, the Center for Child and Family Policy of Duke University, the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University.