Non-College Occupations, Workplace Routinization, and the Gender Gap in College Enrollment
75 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2021 Last revised: 6 Jul 2022
Date Written: February 11, 2022
Women used to lag behind men in college enrollment but now exceed them. This paper focuses on the role of non-college job prospects in explaining these trends. We first document that routine-biased technical change disproportionately displaced non-college occupations held by women. We next instrument for routinization to show that declining non-college job prospects for women increased female enrollment. Two stage least squares results show that a one percentage point rise in routinization increases female college enrollment by 0.6 percentage points, while the effect for male enrollment is not systematically significant. We next embed this instrumental variation into a dynamic model that links education and occupation choices. The model finds that routinization decreased returns to non-college occupations for women, leading them to shift to cognitive work and increasing their college premium. In contrast, non-college occupations for men were less susceptible to routinization. Altogether, our model estimates that workplace routinization accounted for 63% of the growth in female enrollment and 23% of the change in male enrollment between 1980 to 2000.
Keywords: human capital, college enrollment, gender, automation
JEL Classification: I23, I24, I26, J16, J24, I26
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