I’m a big fan of The Atlantic’s Alana Semuels, but wanted to provide some additional context for her piece on the gender gap in college education (Poor Girls are Leaving Their Brothers Behind). There’s no question that women are graduating from high school and pursuing post-secondary education at higher rates than men. As Semuels notes, when it comes to BA attainment, women age 25–29 caught up with men in the early 1990s, and have outpaced them since then. Yet, there’s not much evidence that women are leaving men behind or even catching up with men because of higher education rates.
In 2000, among men and women ages 25–45, about 84 women were employed for every 100 men. The employment rate for both men and women in this age group is lower today than in 2000, but it has only narrowed slightly. Today, it’s about 85 women employed for every 100 men. By contrast, the gender employment gap has narrowed much more in other wealthy nations, largely due to substantial increases in prime-age women’s employment.
When it comes to wages, as IWPR documents, there has been some modest narrowing in the gender earnings ratio in recent years, after roughly a decade of no change, but among full-time workers, women still only earn about 81 percent of what men earn. Similarly, as researchers at NWLC documented a year ago, despite the increases in women’s educational attainment, they remain vastly overrepresented in poorly compensated occupations. In fact, “women need a bachelor’s degree to avoid being overrepresented in low-wage jobs — while men only need to finish high school.
Finally, it’s worth noting that women and people of color are disproportionately represented among enrollees in for-profit educational institutions, what sociologist Tressie McMillian Cottom calls "Lower Ed."
Enrollment in Lower Ed institutions spiked in the latter half of the 2000s, in part due to predatory practices. Today, about 63 percent of students enrolled in for-profit institutions are women (compared to 56 percent at public institutions, and 21 percent are black (compared to 8.9 percent at public institutions). (Calculated from Table 3 in this Department of Education report).
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing much more to improve educational attainment, but as CEPR researcher Brian Dew put it in his recent report on labor market outcomes for men and women, “the ‘problem with men’ is not specific to men.”