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Census Data Shows that More Women Than Men Hold College Degrees

Apr 21, 2010

Reports from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that women have surpassed men in the number of earned bachelor's and master's degrees, particularly among employed adults. The 2010 educational attainment survey also shows that the overall percentage of the population with both a high school diploma a college degree has increased.

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More Americans (and American Women) Earning College Degrees

The phrase 'educational attainment' refers to the highest level of schooling an individual has received. That could range from just some high school all the way up through finishing a Ph.D. Each year, the U.S. Census bureau tracks educational attainment during the annual current population survey, which collects data from a random sampling of about 100,000 address across the country.

Over the last several years, their reports have shown consistent increases. In 2000, 84% of American adults had a high school diploma or equivalent; in 2010, 87% did. Likewise, in 2000, only 26% of American adults over the age of 25 had a bachelor's degree, but in 2010 a full 30% reported completing a college degree.

Recent years have also reflected a swing in the gender balance in higher education: More women than men between the ages of 25 and 29 now possess a bachelor's degree or higher (36% compared with 28%). However, among all adults over the age of 25, only 29.6% of women and 30.3% of men have a bachelor's or graduate degree. The difference is small, but it underscores the fact that it is only in the last one or two generations that women have started to participate equally in higher education.

That difference does reverse again when you focus only on working adults. The survey found that among employed Americans over the age of 25, 37% of women had earned at least a bachelor's degree, as compared with 35% of men.

The survey also examines race differences, showing that, among adults over the age of 25, Asian Americans represent the largest portion of college graduates at 52%. The percentage of other racial and ethnic groups to earn postsecondary degrees were 33% of non-Hispanic whites, 20% of blacks and 14% of Hispanics.

What about those who aren't earning degrees? This year's educational attainment survey also explored the point at which adults tended to drop out of the school system. They found that about 15% of the population over the age of 25 dropped out before earning a high school diploma. About 17% attended some college without ever finishing and only about 4% had attended some graduate school without completing their advanced degrees.

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