A worker’s level of education has a greater effect on his or her earnings over the course of a 40-year career than any other demographic factor, including gender or race, according to a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Based on an analysis of 2006 to 2008 data from the nationally representative survey, Census researchers found that the difference in annual earnings between getting a professional degree, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, and dropping out of high school was about $72,000, five times the $13,000 annual wage difference between genders.
Those with higher levels of education were also more likely to be employed full time and year-round.
Moreover, the Census researchers compared the data to previous educational attainment data and found that the overall level of education in America has risen dramatically. As of 2008, 85 percent of adults ages 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, up from 24.5 percent in 1940.
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2011 edition of Education Week as Educational Attainment