NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 1, 2007

In 2003, there were 1.35 females for every male who graduated from a four-year college -- almost the opposite of 1960.  Why the switch, asks the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)?

According to authors Claudia Goldin, Lawrence Katz and Ilyana Kuziemko, it was the changing expectations of women's future labor force participation in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  For example:

  • Women had greater guarantees by the government that job discrimination by employers against women would not be tolerated.
  • They also anticipated a more even playing field with respect to men in terms of access to high-paying careers for college graduates and to professional and graduate college programs.

These and other changes led to a dramatic shift, say the authors:

  • In 1960, only 39 percent of 30-to-34-year old women were employed and 47 percent of those employed were teachers; 73 percent had children at home.
  • A decade later, only 49 percent of the 1970 graduates were employed at ages 30 to 34 and 55 percent of those with jobs were teachers.
  • But by 1980, when they reached 30-to-34 years of age, 70 percent were employed; only 36 percent of those employed were teachers and 60 percent had children at home.

Further, the advancement of women seeking careers -- not just jobs -- can be seen elsewhere as well:

  • Women earned 45.1 percent of bachelor's degrees in business in 1984-1985 and 50 percent by 2001-2002, up from only 9.1 percent in 1970-1971.
  • Similar large increases in the female share of BAs have also occurred in the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering since the early 1970s.
  • By 1981 the median age of marriage for college-educated women was 25, whereas from the 1950s to the early 1970s women had tended to marry a little more than a year after graduation.

Source: David R. Francis, "Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?" NBER Digest, January 2007; based upon: Claudia Goldin, Lawrence Katz, and Ilyana Kuziemko, "The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper #12139, March 2006.

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