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Between 1980 and 2001, the number of women enrolled in degree-granting institutions increased by 41 percent (from roughly 5.5 million in 1980 to 7.7 million in 2001), while the number of men enrolled increased by 20 percent (from about 5 million to 6 million) (figure 1). Over this time period, the percentage of all undergraduates who were women increased from 52 percent to 56 percent. The attainment trend of women followed a similar pattern. Women experienced greater gains than men in the number of degrees awarded between 1980 and 2001.
Over the last two decades, there was a 57 percent increase in the associate’s degrees awarded to women, and a 26 percent increase in the associate’s degrees awarded to men. In other words, women went from earning 55 percent of associate’s degrees awarded in 1980–81 to 60 percent in 2001–02. As with associate’s degrees, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to both men and women increased between the 1980 and 2001 school years, but the increase for women was greater. Women experienced a 59 percent increase in the degrees awarded over the two decades, compared with a 17 percent increase in degrees awarded to men. The percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 23 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 2003 (figure 2).
Over the past decade, women have generally been overrepresented among older students and students with characteristics that place them at risk of not completing postsecondary education. Women are overrepresented among single parents, among those 40 years or older, and among those in the lowest income group. In addition, when compared to all 1999–2000 undergraduates, a greater percentage of Black students were women by almost 8 percentage points (56 percent of all undergraduates were women vs. 64 percent of Black students) (table 1). However, comparisons between the three cohorts also reveal a small but significant shift toward more women who are traditional students than in previous years.
|U.S. Total (excluding Puerto Rico)||55.3||56.8||56.3|
|Risk status for not completing ¹|
|No risk factors (traditional students)||53.6||54.4||55.2|
|One or more risk factors||56.0||56.4||56.8|
|40 or older||66.1||64.5||62.2|
|Middle low income||56.3||56.5||56.3|
|Middle high income||55.7||55.7||56.0|
|Never married, no children||47.5||49.2||50.0|
|Married/separated, no children||60.1||66.8||57.7|
|Hours worked per week while enrolled|
|Did not work||62.1||59.5||58.7|
|More than 34 hours||48.3||52.7||53.3|
One year after attaining their bachelor’s degree, men and women displayed different patterns of employment. While both men and women were more likely to be working full time than part time, for both cohorts, men were more likely than women to be working full time, and women were more likely than men to be working part time.
Among bachelor’s degree recipients who were employed full time 1 year after graduation in 1994 and 2001, women earned less than men in both cohorts. Furthermore, the gender gap in salaries may have been widening. For example, in both cohorts, men who majored in engineering, mathematics, and science fields earned higher average annual salaries than women who majored in these fields ($33,300 vs. $27,900 in 1994 and $45,200 vs. $34,200 in 2001, respectively) (table 2). In other words, women with degrees in these fields earned, on average, $5,400 less than men or roughly 84 percent of what men earned in 1994, and about $11,000 less than men or 76 percent of what men earned in 2001. Also, in 2001, about one-half of men in these fields (51 percent) earned $45,000 or more, compared with about one-fourth of women.
|Average annual amount earned (in constant 2001 dollars)||Average annual salary|
|Gender||$1-24,999||$25,000- 29,999||$30,000- 34,999||$35,000- 44,999||$45,000 or more|
Engineering, mathematics, and sciences ¹
Humanities and social/behavioral science
Health, vocational/technical, and other technical/professional fields