Ch-Ch-Changes: Men, women, and college degrees

College desks

Source: Flikr Creative Commons

Economists, demographers, and social scientists of all stripes get excited when the data from Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) start arriving from the Census Bureau.  (Yes, we’re data nerds.)  The recent release on educational attainment is chock full of cool stuff.

Let’s start with this picture:

EdAttain Fig 2

Educational attainment, measured by high school and college graduates, rose steadily since 1940. Notice, however, the flat line for “25 to 29 years, High school completion;” this shows that high school graduation rates stopped rising in the mid-1970s and only started increasing again in the early 2000s.  The same thing happened with college degrees but growth resumed in the mid-1990s. Hmm… I wonder what was going on.

Looking at this picture reminded me how lucky I was growing up.  In particular, I was born in 1960 and both of my parents, along with three of my four grandparents, earned college degrees.  That means my parents and grandparents were part of the 35 percent of the population that graduated from high school and the eight percent of the population with college degrees in 1960.  Talk about a leg up on life.

The other striking charts show educational attainment by sex.  First, take a look at this:

EdAttain Fig 6

For the first time in US history, a higher percentage of women have bachelor’s degrees than men.  The question now is whether the gap between men and women will grow or whether the number of women earning degrees will level out.  I don’t see it slowing down for the foreseeable future.

The data also allow us to look at trends between men and women broken down by race and ethnicity:

EdAttain Fig 8

This picture shows that since the mid-1990s white, black, and Hispanic women were more likely to earn college degrees than their male counterparts.  Over the past ten years this is true for Asian women and men as well.

I keep asking myself what this means.  How will the differential earning of degrees affect marriage patterns?  Numbers of children?  Child care arrangements?  Average earnings of men versus women?  Corporate structures?

The answer to which I keep returning is that big changes are on the horizon.  In fact, they’re already here if you look around.