Equity & Diversity

Choice of Majors More Critical to Pay for Young Women Than Men

By Caralee J. Adams — December 10, 2013 1 min read
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There is more research out on the importance of what college-bound students choose to study over where they go to school on the botttom-line return on their investment. But the most recent findings show the decision is even more critical for young women.

Which Is More Consequential: Field of Study or Institutional Selectivity?,” published in the winter issue of The Review of Higher Education analyzed the paths of 2,000 students by type of institution, field of study, and earnings up to age 26 from data in the National Education Longitudinal Study. The authors, Yingyi Ma, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University, in New York, and Gokhan Savas, and assistant professor of sociology at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa, used control factors to be sure the comparisons were of simliarly qualified students.

The study found women reap less earnings advantage from selective institutions but similar advantages from lucrative fields compared to men. In other words, young women fared well going into a high-paying field, such as engineering, whether they went to a public school or an elite private university. Yet, there was a gender gap among students who chose non-lucrative majors at selective colleges with men earning more upon graduation.

Reseachers are interested in exploring the topic since women, on average, earn about 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man and the gap is greater for those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Yet, in recent years more women have begun attending and graduating college than men.

The authors caution that it’s not that women don’t gain anything by attending an elite college, but men just appear to gain more, according to an article in Inside Higher Ed. In an interview, Ma said the reason may be that male students at elite schools are more likely to form connections that help with their careers.

The result of this study may make a difference in college choice for young women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as they realize career choice is a great factor in their later earnings than where they attend, Ma said in the article.

One limitation to note: The research tracks young people up to age 26, so it doesn’t account for gains that might come from graduate school.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.