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Gains and Gaps: Changing Inequality in U.S. College Entry and Completion

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  • Martha J. Bailey
  • Susan M. Dynarski

Abstract

We describe changes over time in inequality in postsecondary education using nearly seventy years of data from the U.S. Census and the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. We find growing gaps between children from high- and low-income families in college entry, persistence, and graduation. Rates of college completion increased by only four percentage points for low-income cohorts born around 1980 relative to cohorts born in the early 1960s, but by 18 percentage points for corresponding cohorts who grew up in high-income families. Among men, inequality in educational attainment has increased slightly since the early 1980s. But among women, inequality in educational attainment has risen sharply, driven by increases in the education of the daughters of high-income parents. Sex differences in educational attainment, which were small or nonexistent thirty years ago, are now substantial, with women outpacing men in every demographic group. The female advantage in educational attainment is largest in the top quartile of the income distribution. These sex differences present a formidable challenge to standard explanations for rising inequality in educational attainment.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17633.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Publication status: published as “Inequality in Postsecondary Education” (with Susan Dynarski). In G.J. Duncan and R.J. Murnane (eds.), Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances. (Russell Sage: New York, New York, September 2011).  Featured in the May 2012 NBER Digest (http://www.nber.org/digest/may12/may12.pdf).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17633

Note: CH DAE ED LS
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  1. Ronald G. Ehrenberg & Dominic Brewer & Daniel Goldhaber, 1995. "Do teachers' race, gender, and ethnicity matter? Evidence from the NELS," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(3), pages 547-561, April.
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Cited by:
  1. Huang, Jin, 2013. "Intergenerational transmission of educational attainment: The role of household assets," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 112-123.
  2. James J. Heckman & Stefano Mosso, 2014. "The Economics of Human Development and Social Mobility," Working Papers 2014-004, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  3. Cohodes, Sarah & Goodman, Joshua, 2013. "Merit Aid, College Quality and College Completion: Massachusetts' Adams Scholarship as an In-Kind Subsidy," Working Paper Series rwp13-005, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  4. Michael F. Lovenheim & Emily G. Owens, 2013. "Does Federal Financial Aid Affect College Enrollment? Evidence from Drug Offenders and the Higher Education Act of 1998," NBER Working Papers 18749, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Sarena F. Goodman, 2013. "Learning from the test: raising selective college enrollment by providing information," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-69, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  6. Lovenheim, Michael F. & Owens, Emily G., 2014. "Does federal financial aid affect college enrollment? Evidence from drug offenders and the Higher Education Act of 1998," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 1-13.
  7. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2012. "The Quest for More and More Education: Implications for Social Mobility," IZA Discussion Papers 6581, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Elliott, William, 2013. "Small-dollar children's savings accounts and children's college outcomes," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 572-585.
  9. Katja Maria Kaufmann & Matthias Messner & Alex Solis, 2013. "Returns to Elite Higher Education in the Marriage Market: Evidence from Chile," Working Papers 489, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  10. Cohodes, Sarah & Goodman, Joshua, 2012. "First Degree Earns: The Impact of College Quality on College Completion Rates," Working Paper Series rwp12-033, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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