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PEDAR: Executive Summary  Gender Differences in Participation and Completion of Undergraduate Education and How They Have Changed Over Time
Trends in Postsecondary Enrollment and Degree Awards
Changes in Undergraduate Student Profiles and Enrollment Characteristics
Preparation, Persistence, and Progress Through Undergraduate Education
High School Academic Preparation and Subsequent Attainment
Postsecondary Persistence and Degree Completion
Early Labor Market Outcomes Among Bachelor's Degree Recipients
Research Methodology
Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)
 Changes in Undergraduate Student Profiles and Enrollment Characteristics

Over the past decade, women have generally been overrepresented among older students and adult students with families. In 1999–2000, for example, they accounted for roughly 60 percent of all students older than 29 years (table 2). However, between 1989–90 and 1999–2000, women began to increase their representation among students typically considered traditional (i.e., students who enroll in college full time immediately after graduating from high school). This growth is reflected in the increase in the percentage of students who were women among students ages 18-23 (from 53 to 55 percent), dependent students, who are typically under age 24 (from 52 to 53 percent), and independent students who had never married and had no children (from 48 to 50 percent).

These changes are also reflected in patterns of degree attainment for the younger U.S. population (i.e., 25- to 29-year-olds) over the past two decades. While the percentage of men in this age group with a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 24 to 26 percent, the percentage of women with this level of attainment increased from 21 to 31 percent (figure A). So, while 25- to 29-year-old women began the 1980s with a smaller percentage with a bachelor's degree, by the mid-1990s, this trend had reversed.

In addition, as shown in figure B, it appears that women closed the gender gap for another characteristic of traditional students: full-time attendance. In 1989–90, men were more likely than women to attend full time (42 vs. 37 percent), but by 1999–2000, a statistical difference could not be detected in the gender distribution of full-time students (53 vs. 51 percent). In other words, both men and women increased their likelihood of attending full time, but the increase for women was greater.

While women have increased their representation among younger, full-time students, who tend to be more successful in completing a college degree, women continue to represent 60 percent or more of students with characteristics that place them at a disadvantage in succeeding in postsecondary education (table 2). In particular, women make up 60 percent of students in the lowest 25 percent income level, 62 percent of students age 40 or older, 62 percent of students with children or dependents (among married or separated students), and 69 percent of single parents. All of these characteristics are associated with lower rates of persistence and completion in postsecondary education (e.g., Berkner, He, and Cataldi 2002).


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