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Earnings Report: Women Need Ph.D.s to Match Men with Bachelor’s

The College Payoff

A new Center on Education and the Workforce study shows that a salary gap exists between women and men with the same college education.

August 5, 2011 – Women must obtain doctorates to earn as much as men make with bachelor’s degrees, according to a new Georgetown report.

“Women earn less than men, even when they work the same number of hours — a gap that persists across all levels of educational attainment,” states “The College Payoff” report, released today by the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “…On average, to earn as much as men with a bachelor’s degree, women must obtain a doctoral degree."

“Women’s earnings gaps have been diminishing over time, but there are still substantial, and are not completely explained by either educational attainment or occupational choices,” says Anthony P. Carnevale, the center’s director and study author.

The report also states that women with bachelor’s degrees earn about as much as men with some college education but no degree.

Minority Earnings

Also noted in the report is that African-Americans and Latinos earn less than their white counterparts, even if they are highly educated workers.

Members of these groups who hold master’s degrees do not earn more during their lifetimes than whites with bachelor’s degrees, according to the report.

At the graduate degree level, however, Asians make more than all other races and ethnicities, including whites.

Occupation vs. Education

And while the study shows that college degrees always equals more earning power than high school diplomas, people with the same education can sometimes out-earn those with schooling in less remunerative occupations.  Elementary and middle school teachers with bachelor’s degrees, for example, make $1.8 million in a lifetime, while computer software engineers with bachelor’s degrees make $3.6 million.

Even people with less education can out-earn those with more education, depending on occupation.  For example, Psychologists with graduate degrees make $2.2 million over a lifetime, compared with $2.7 million over a lifetime for Engineers with some college but no degree.

“The bottom line is that what occupation you work in has as much of an influence on your earnings as your education level, if not more,” Carnevale says. “In many cases, people with lower educational attainment can make more than those with more education.”

Widening Gap

The report does state, however, that on average, a high school graduate can expect to earn $1.3 million on average over a lifetime, while a bachelor’s degree-holder earns $2.3 million.

And that gap has widened over the years – people with bachelor’s degrees earned 75 percent more over a lifetime than a high school graduate in 2002 – now they earn 84 percent more.

The Payoff

While the report covers a lot of ground, it makes clear that going to college is still extremely important in the modern work environment.

“Obtaining a postsecondary credential is almost always worth it, as evidenced by higher earnings over a lifetime,” the report concludes.

“A college degree provides greater career mobility opportunities, greater lifetime earning power and a more promising future,” Carnevale says. “That’s the college payoff.”

To read the report, visit the Center on Education and the Workforce website.

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