This study investigates gender-specific changes in the total financial return to education among persons of prime working ages (35–44 years) using U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000, and the 2009–2011 American Community Survey. We define the total financial return to education as the family standard of living as measured by family income adjusted for family size. Our results indicate that women experienced significant progress in educational attainment and labor market outcomes over this time period. Ironically, married women’s progress in education and personal earnings has led to greater improvement in the family standard of living for married men than for women themselves. Gender-specific changes in assortative mating are mostly responsible for this paradoxical trend. Because the number of highly educated women exceeds the number of highly educated men in the marriage market, the likelihood of educational marrying up has substantially increased for men over time while women’s likelihood has decreased. Sensitivity analyses show that the greater improvement in the family standard of living for men than for women is not limited to prime working-age persons but is also evident in the general population. Consequently, women’s return to education through marriage declined while men’s financial gain through marriage increased considerably.
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However, Hubbard (2011) argued that no gender difference exists in the college wage premium after correcting for bias associated with top-coding.
Because we use the three-year combined ACS, we considered the sensitivity of our results by changing the sample restriction to those who were born in 1966–1975, finding that the results are almost identical. Using the ACS 2010 one-year sample instead of a three-year combined sample does not alter our conclusion, either.
Even within nuclear families, resource allocation can be skewed depending on power relations between couples and related transaction cost considerations (Agarwal 1997; Bergstrom 1996). How well this assumption holds is very difficult to test because the decision to participate in the labor force is not exogenous with respect to the allocation of resources within the family (Lundberg et al. 1997).
The proportion living with partners, friends, or visitors is only 4.2 % among persons aged 35–44 in 2009–2011.
Why single women’s incomes grew more slowly than equally educated single men is another question beyond the scope of this study and should be investigated in future research.
The analyses of the change between 1990 and 2000 and the change between 2000 and 2009–2011 yield the same conclusion that we present here.
Mathematically, the log of a sum does not equal the sum of the logs.
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We thank the Editor and the anonymous reviewers of Demography for helpful comments. Thanks also to Kimberly Goyette, Young-mi Kim, and Yool Choi for their comments. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2015 RC28 summer meeting and at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. ChangHwan Kim received financial support for this study from the University of Kansas (GRF #2301065).
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Kim, C., Sakamoto, A. Women’s Progress for Men’s Gain? Gender-Specific Changes in the Return to Education as Measured by Family Standard of Living, 1990 to 2009–2011 . Demography 54, 1743–1772 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-017-0601-3
- Return to education
- Standard of living
- Equivalized income
- Assortative mating