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College Attendance Pays With Higher Earnings

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Washington--A typical bachelor's degree is worth about $329,000 more in lifetime earnings for men and about $142,000 more for women than a typical high-school diploma, according to the Census Bureau.

In a report released here last week, the bureau estimated that men with five or more years of college experience as of 1978-80 could expect to earn an average of $1.3 million by age 64. By contrast, men with fewer than 12 years of formal schooling could expect to earn less than half as much--about $601,000--during their working days. Men who received high-school diplomas during those years could expect to earn an average of $861,000 during their lifetimes, but those who had completed four years of college could expect to earn about $1.2 million.

The financial gains associated with education appeared to hold true for women as well, the report indicated. A woman aged 18 in 1978-80 who had not completed high school could expect to earn no more than $211,000 by age 64, the report said. Women completing four years of high school could expect to earn an average of $381,000 during that same period.

Women who completed four years of college in the same period are likely to earn an average of $523,000 during their lifetimes, a figure 27-percent higher than that for women who completed high school only, the report noted. Those who completed five or more years of higher education will earn an estimated $700,000 by the time they retire.

The study reported the average expected lifetime earnings of men and women in terms of the buying power of a dollar in 1981. Those figures were calculated by using survey data collected for the years 1978, 1979, and 1980.

Significant Employment Breaks

The report, titled Lifetime Earnings Estimates for Men and Women in the United States: 1979, cautioned that the estimates for men and women "are not directly comparable for a number of reasons." It noted that a larger proportion of women than of men "experience significant breaks in employment," thereby affecting their total lifetime earnings. Furthermore, it noted, the size of the sample studied and other factors made it impossible for the researchers to determine the fiscal effects of past discrimination on women.

The report's findings "are consistent with every result of this sort that I've ever seen," said Neale Baxter, managing editor of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Quarterly. "Women earn considerably less money than do men, even when they work year-round and full time."

Mr. Baxter said that the difference in earnings is, in large part, a result of occupational choices that are made by many women.

"Take a look at physicians," he said. "We know that many more women today are coming out of medical schools, but we also know that many more women than men choose to become pediatricians. That's an occupation that pays substantially less than heart surgery or neurosurgery," occupations that men opt into with much greater frequency.

Furthermore, added Patrick Wash, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "women in general tend to be concentrated in low-paying jobs."

"Most women end up in the social-service sector; they're teachers, clerks, secretaries," Mr. Wash said. "You can look down the line and see that occupational fields dominated by women are low-paying. If you want, you can take it from there and make your case for discrimination."

The Census Bureau study appears both to support in part and to contradict in part a similar report issued last year by the National Center For Education Statistics. (See Education Week, Nov. 17, 1982.)

That report, based on the experiences of the high-school graduating class of 1972, noted that in the first several years following the completion of high school, both men and women who went directly into the work force tended to earn more money than their counterparts who chose to attend college instead.

The report also found that women who completed college soon began to earn more money than their peers with no higher education, but the same did not appear to hold true for men.

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