50 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2008
Date Written: October 2004
Women now earn about 57 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in the United States, a reversal of the gender gap in college education that existed before the late 1970s. A similar reversal can be observed in a substantial majority of developed (OECD) countries, and in a large number of non-OECD countries as well. This paper documents the trend in the college gender gap over the past half century and explores some potential explanations. Within the United States, rising returns to human capital for women may help explain some of the change, but returns to college are now very high for both men and women, and men's enrollment rates have remained stagnant while women's continue to increase. Examining crosscountry data, I show that the trend in the college gender gap persists even after controlling for changes in women's labor-force participation rates, per-capita GDP, and total fertility rates. Within the sample of OECD countries, changes in the divorce rate help explain much of the trend in the OECD, suggesting that changes in family structure or divorce risk may have played an important role, although of course marital status is likely to be endogenous to other social and economic changes that affected schooling decisions as well.
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By Brian Jacob