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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    However, Hubbard (2011) argued that no gender difference exists in the college wage premium after correcting for bias associated with top-coding.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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).

  4. 4.

    The proportion living with partners, friends, or visitors is only 4.2 % among persons aged 35–44 in 2009–2011.

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    Mathematically, the log of a sum does not equal the sum of the logs.

References

  1. Agarwal, B. (1997). “Bargaining” and gender relations: Within and beyond household. Feminist Economics, 3(1), 1–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Aughinbaugh, A., Robles, O., & Sun, H. (2013). Marriage and divorce: Patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment. Monthly Labor Review, October, 1–16.

  3. Bailey, M. J. (2006). More power to the pill: The impact of contraceptive freedom on women’s life cycle labor supply. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121, 289–320.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Becker, G. S. (1991). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bergstrom, T. C. (1996). Economics in a family way. Journal of Economic Literature, 34, 1903–1934.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2006). The U.S. gender pay gap in the 1990s: Slowing convergence. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 60, 45–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Brand, J. E., & Davis, D. (2011). The impact of college education on fertility: Evidence for heterogeneous effects. Demography, 48, 863–887.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Breen, R., & Salazar, L. (2011). Educational assortative mating and earnings inequality in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 808–843.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Buchmann, C., & DiPrete, T. A. (2006). The growing female advantage in college completion: The role of family background and academic achievement. American Sociological Review, 71, 515–541.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Buss, D. M., Shackelford, T. K., Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Larsen, R. J. (2001). A half century of mate preferences: The cultural evolution of values. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 491–503.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Card, D., & DiNardo, J. E. (2002). Skill–biased technological change and rising wage inequality: Some problems and puzzles. Journal of Labor Economics, 20, 733–783.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Charles, K. K., & Luoh, M. C. (2003). Gender differences in completed schooling. Review of Economics and Statistics, 85, 559–577.

  13. Cherlin, A. J. (2004). The deinstitutionalization of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 848–861.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cherlin, A. J. (2005). American marriage in the early twenty-first century. Future of Children, 15(2), 33–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. DiPrete, T. A., & Buchmann, C. (2006). Gender-specific trends in the value of education and the emerging gender gap in college completion. Demography, 43, 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. DiPrete, T. A., & Buchmann, C. (2013). The rise of women: The growing gender gap in eduation and what it means for American schools. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dougherty, C. (2005). Why are the returns to schooling higher for women than for men? Journal of Human Resources, XL, 969–988.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. England, P. (2010). The gender revolution: Uneven and stalled. Gender and Society, 24, 149–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. England, P., & Farkas, G. (1986). Households, employment, and gender: A social, economic, and demographic view. New York, NY: Aldine Pub. Co.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Fernandez, R., Guner, N., & Knowles, J. (2005). Love and money: A theoretical and empirical analysis of household sorting and inequality. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120, 273–344.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Goldin, C. (1997). Career and family: College women look to the past. In F. D. Blau & R. G. Ehrenberg (Eds.), Gender and family issues in the workplace (pp. 20–58). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Goldin, C. (2006). The quiet revolution that transformed women’s employment, education, and family. American Economic Review, 96, 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Goldin, C., Katz, L. F., & Kuziemko, I. (2006). The homecoming of American college women: The reversal of the college gender gap. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(4), 133–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Grogger, J., & Eide, E. (1995). Changes in college skills and the rise in the college wage premium. Journal of Human Resources, 30, 280–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hubbard, W. H. (2011). The phantom gender difference in the college wage premium. Journal of Human Resources, 46, 568–586.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kim, C., & Sakamoto, A. (2008). The rise of intra-occupational wage inequality in the United States, 1983 to 2002. American Sociological Review, 73, 129–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lehrer, E., & Nerlove, M. (1986). Female labor force behavior and fertility in the United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 181–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Leicht, K. T. (2008). Broken down by race and gender? Sociological explanations of new sources of earnings inequality. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 237–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Long, M. C. (2010). Changes in the returns to education and college quality. Economics of Education Review, 29, 338–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lundberg, S. J., Pollak, R. A., & Wales, T. J. (1997). Do husbands and wives pool their resources? Evidence from the United Kingdom Child Benefit. Journal of Human Resources, 32, 463–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mandel, H., & Semyonov, M. (2014). Gender pay gap and employment sector: Sources of earnings disparities in the United States, 1970–2010. Demography, 51, 1597–1618.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Mare, R. D. (1991). Five decades of educational assortative mating. American Sociological Review, 56, 15–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. McCall, L. (2000). Explaining levels of within-group wage inequality in U.S. labor markets. Demography, 37, 415–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. McKinnish, T. (2008). Spousal mobility and earnings. Demography, 45, 829–849.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Morris, M., & Western, B. (1999). Inequality in earnings at the close of the twentieth century. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 623–657.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Murphy, K. M., & Welch, F. (1992). The structure of wages. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 107, 285–326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Musick, K., England, P., Edgington, S., & Kangas, N. (2009). Education differences in intended and unintended fertility. Social Forces, 88, 543–572.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Oppenheimer, V. K. (1994). Women’s rising employment and the future of the family in industrial societies. Population and Development Review, 20, 293–342.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Oppenheimer, V. K. (1997). Women’s employment and the gain to marriage: The specialization and trading model. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 431–453.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Parker, K., Horowitz, J. M., & Rohal, M. (2015). Parenting in America: Outlook, worries, aspirations are strongly linked to financial situation (Pew Research Center report). Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/17/parenting-in-america/

  41. Ruggles, S., Genadek, K., Goeken, R., Grover, J., & Sobek, M. (2015). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 6.0 [Data set]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Schwartz, C. R. (2013). Trends and variation in assortative mating: Causes and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 451–470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Schwartz, C. R., & Han, H. (2014). The reversal of the gender gap in education and trends in marital dissolution. American Sociological Review, 79, 605–629.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Schwartz, C. R., & Mare, R. D. (2005). Trends in educational assortative marriage from 1940 to 2003. Demography, 42, 621–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Snyder, T. D., Dillow, S. A., & Hoffman, C. M. (2008). Digest of education statistics, 2007 (NCES Report No. 2008-022). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Stiglitz, J., Sen, A., & Fitoussi, J.-P. (2009). The measurement of economic performance and social progress revisited: Reflections and overview (OFCE Report No. 2009-33). Paris, France: Centre de Recherche en Économie de Sciences Po.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Sullivan, O. (2006). Changing gender relations, changing families: Tracing the pace of change over time. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Sweeney, M. M., & Cancian, M. (2004). The changing importance of white women’s economic prospects for assortative mating. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1015–1028.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Tomaskovic-Devey, D., Zimmer, C., Stainback, K., Robinson, C., Taylor, T., & McTague, T. (2006). Documenting desegregation: Segregation in American workplaces by race, ethnicity, and sex 1966–2000. American Sociological Review, 71, 565–588.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Wang, W. (2014). Record share of wives are more educated than their husbands. Pew Research Center Fact Tank. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/12/record-share-of-wives-are-more-educated-than-their-husbands/

Download references

Acknowledgments

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).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to ChangHwan Kim.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Gender
  • Return to education
  • Standard of living
  • Equivalized income
  • Assortative mating