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Researchers Chart Increase in Earnings of G.E.D. Holders

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After an initial lag, high school dropouts who obtain a General Educational Development credential eventually fare better in the labor market than those who do not, a study by three Harvard University researchers concludes.

But holders of the high-school-equivalency diploma still do not do as well as regular high school graduates, and many live in poverty, the study found.

The study found almost no difference between the hourly wages of male G.E.D. holders immediately after they pass the exam and those of dropouts without the credential. And dropouts tend to work 6 percent fewer hours immediately after obtaining a G.E.D. than they would without it. But this gap eventually closes.

"Over time, earnings increase more rapidly than would have been the case had G.E.D. recipients not obtained the credential," the researchers write,"in part because G.E.D. recipients increased the number of hours they work at a more rapid rate than they would have without the credential, and in part because wages increased more rapidly than they would have without" it.

The researchers analyzed data on 892 male high school dropouts who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 1991. A total of 315 had obtained the G.E.D. and 577 had not.

The study was conducted by Richard J. Murnane and John B. Willett, both professors at the Harvard education school, and Kathryn Parker Boudett, a graduate student at the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Their findings will be published in the summer issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Single copies will be available free of charge later this month by calling Denise McKeon, the outreach director at the American Educational Research Association, at (202) 223-9485.

--Meg Sommerfeld

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