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Gender Differences in Postsecondary Education

Enrollment and Degree Awards

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).

Figure 1. Total fall undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting institutions (in thousands), by gender: 1980–2001


Total fall undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting institutions (in thousands), by gender: 1980–2001

NOTE: Data for 1999 are imputed. For more information, see U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2002b). Digest of Education Statistics, 2001 (NCES 2002–130), pp. 509–510.
SOURCE: Figure 1 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Gender Differences in Participation and Completion of Undergraduate Education and How They Have Changed Over Time, NCES 2005–169, by Katharin Peter, Laura Horn, and C. Dennis Carroll. Washington, DC: 2005.

Figure 2. Percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher, by gender: March 1980–2003


Percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher, by gender: March 1980–2003

NOTE: The Current Population Survey (CPS) questions used to obtain educational attainment were changed in 1992. In 1994, the survey instrument for the CPS was changed and weights were adjusted. For more information, see http://www.bls.census.gov/cps.
SOURCE: Figure 3 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Gender Differences in Participation and Completion of Undergraduate Education and How They Have Changed Over Time, NCES 2005–169, by Katharin Peter, Laura Horn, and C. Dennis Carroll. Washington, DC: 2005.

Student Profiles and Risk Factors

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.

Table 1. Percentage of undergraduates who were women, by student characteristics and academic year: 1989–90, 1995–96, and 1999–2000


Student characteristics 1989–90 1995–96 1999–2000
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
Race/ethnicity ²
American Indian 47.9 65.1 60.7
Asian/Pacific Islander 48.1 51.3 51.4
Black 63.3 63.1 63.5
White 55.1 56.0 55.6
Hispanic 52.2 57.5 55.6
Age
18–23 52.5 54.4 55.0
24–29 52.0 55.2 53.5
30–39 62.2 61.3 60.1
40 or older 66.1 64.5 62.2
Income level
Low income 59.3 60.2 60.2
Middle low income 56.3 56.5 56.3
Middle high income 55.7 55.7 56.0
High income 50.9 54.5 53.4
Dependency status
Dependent 51.7 52.6 53.3
Independent
Never married, no children 47.5 49.2 50.0
Married/separated, no children 60.1 66.8 57.7
Married/separated, children 62.4 61.2 61.8
Single parent 80.6 73.0 68.9
Hours worked per week while enrolled
Did not work 62.1 59.5 58.7
1–24 hours 60.6 59.8 59.7
25–34 hours 57.2 51.8 56.7
More than 34 hours 48.3 52.7 53.3

¹ Risk factors include delaying enrollment, not having a high school diploma, enrolling part time, being financially independent (typically students over 24), having dependents other than a spouse, being a single parent, and working full time while enrolled. For more information, see Horn, L.J., and Premo, M.D. (1995). Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Education Institutions: 1992–93, With an Essay on Undergraduates at Risk (NCES 96–237).
² American Indian includes Alaska Native, Black includes African American, Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin.
SOURCE: Table 2 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Gender Differences in Participation and Completion of Undergraduate Education and How They Have Changed Over Time, NCES 2005–169, by Katharin Peter, Laura Horn, and C. Dennis Carroll. Washington, DC: 2005.

Labor Market Outcomes

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.

Table 2. Among 1992–93 and 1999–2000 bachelor’s degree recipients who were employed full time 1 year after graduation, percentage distribution by amount earned and average amount earned, undergraduate field of study, and gender: 1994 and 2001


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

Total

1994
Male 36.4 18.7 14.5 18.0 12.4 $32,500
Female 52.4 21.2 9.8 10.0 6.5 27,400
2001
Male 14.3 13.3 17.4 24.3 30.7 39,400
Female 24.1 20.6 20.9 20.3 14.1 32,600

Business/management

1994
Male 29.6 19.6 16.7 21.0 13.1 33,600
Female 43.3 21.6 12.7 12.6 9.8 29,900
2001
Male 7.1 9.4 18.5 31.4 33.7 42,300
Female 10.6 13.0 19.5 32.9 24.1 39,000

Education

1994
Male 53.5 22.2 9.3 4.7 10.3 35,100
Female 66.0 24.2 7.0 1.9 0.9 21,900
2001
Male 22.7 31.7 24.4 12.2 8.9 29,600
Female 26.6 34.4 27.5 8.9 2.6 28,100

Engineering, mathematics, and sciences ¹

1994
Male 25.8 16.9 16.6 25.9 14.8 33,300
Female 51.4 17.9 10.6 13.3 6.8 27,900
2001
Male 7.9 5.9 11.5 23.2 51.4 45,200
Female 24.1 15.7 14.3 21.7 24.2 34,200

Humanities and social/behavioral science

1994
Male 49.1 19.8 11.4 11.9 7.7 27,300
Female 61.2 24.1 7.3 5.3 2.1 26,500
2001
Male 23.2 18.0 19.6 20.6 18.6 34,600
Female 32.7 21.6 22.6 15.6 7.6 29,400

Health, vocational/technical, and other technical/professional fields

1994
Male 43.5 16.2 13.5 12.9 14.0 35,400
Female 40.3 16.2 12.0 18.3 13.1 30,300
2001
Male 16.7 15.7 18.3 25.1 24.2 38,100
Female 19.9 19.1 18.5 23.8 18.8 34,300

¹ Sciences include life sciences, physical sciences, and computer/information science.
NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: Table 16 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Gender Differences in Participation and Completion of Undergraduate Education and How They Have Changed Over Time, NCES 2005–169, by Katharin Peter, Laura Horn, and C. Dennis Carroll. Washington, DC: 2005.

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