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Status of Education in Rural America
NCES 2007-040
June 2007

2.10. Median earnings


People with higher levels of educational attainment had higher annual median earnings in 2004, regardless of sex and locale. Persons in rural areas generally had higher median earnings than those in cities and towns, but lower median earnings than those in suburban areas, regardless of educational attainment.

In 2004, the median annual earnings for all full-time, full-year workers over the age of 25 in the United States was $38,600 (table 2.10a). Nationally, among such workers, those with higher educational attainment had higher median earnings than those with lower educational attainment: the median earnings of those with a graduate or professional degree ($67,200) was higher than that of those with a bachelor's degree ($51,500), those with some college or an associate's degree ($37,300), those with a high school diploma or equivalent ($31,100), and those with less than a high school diploma ($23,700).

In order to accurately compare earnings among such workers across various locales, the data presented in this analysis have been adjusted to reflect geographic cost differences (such as cost-of-living differences).1 The median earnings in rural areas ($39,000) was higher than that in cities ($35,700) and towns ($36,500), but was lower than that in suburban areas ($40,200). This pattern held true at each level of educational attainment, with two exceptions. Among workers with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, the median earnings for those in rural areas ($28,200) was higher than for those in towns ($25,100), suburbs ($24,400), and cities ($20,900) (figure 2.10a). In addition, the median earnings of those with a high school diploma or its equivalent as their highest level of education was higher in rural areas ($33,800) than in suburban areas ($31,900), towns ($31,600), and cities ($28,700).

In 2004, the median earnings for full-time, full-year employed males over the age of 25 ($42,900) were higher than the median earnings for such females ($32,300) (table 2.10b and figure 2.10b). This difference was observed in all locales and at all levels of educational attainment. For males, the median earnings in rural areas ($44,800) were higher than the median earnings in cities ($39,600) and towns ($42,200), but lower than the median earnings in suburban areas ($46,900). For females, the median earnings in rural areas ($31,500) were also higher than in towns ($30,500) and lower than in suburban areas ($34,400), but were not measurably different from the median earnings in cities ($31,600).

While males and females as a whole showed relatively similar patterns across locales, different earnings patterns between the sexes, particularly in earnings between rural and suburban areas, are observed when levels of educational attainment are taken into account. Males in rural areas had higher median earnings than males in towns and cities, regardless of their educational attainment. Even though rural males with no more than a high school diploma (or equivalent) had higher median earnings than their suburban peers, no significant difference was detected between the median earnings of rural and suburban males with bachelor's degrees.

Median earnings for females in rural areas were higher than median earnings for females in cities and towns, regardless of their educational attainment, with two exceptions. No significant differences were detected between median earnings for females with a high school diploma (or equivalent) in rural areas and towns or for females with a bachelor's degree or higher in rural areas and cities. Females with less than a high school diploma (or equivalent) had higher median earnings in rural areas than in suburban areas, while females with a high school diploma (or equivalent) or higher (including a bachelor's degree) had lower median earnings in rural areas than in suburban areas.

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1 NCES's Comparable Wage Index (CWI) was used to adjust for geographic cost differences. For more details on the CWI, see A Comparable Wage Approach to Geographic Cost Adjustment (NCES 2006-321).

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