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Is College Still Worth It? The New Calculus of Falling Returns

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  • William R. Emmons
  • Ana Hernández Kent
  • Lowell R. Ricketts

Abstract

The college income premium is the extra income earned by a family whose head has a college degree over the income earned by an otherwise similar family whose head does not have a college degree. This premium remains positive but has declined for recent graduates. The college wealth premium (extra net worth) has declined more noticeably among all cohorts born after 1940. Among families whose head is White and born in the 1980s, the college wealth premium of a terminal four-year bachelor?s degree is at a historic low; among families whose head is any other race and ethnicity born in that decade, the premium is statistically indistinguishable from zero. Among families whose head is of any race or ethnicity born in the 1980s and holding a postgraduate degree, the wealth premium is also indistinguishable from zero. Our results suggest that college and postgraduate education may be failing some recent graduates as a financial investment.

Suggested Citation

  • William R. Emmons & Ana Hernández Kent & Lowell R. Ricketts, 2019. "Is College Still Worth It? The New Calculus of Falling Returns," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, vol. 101(4), pages 297-329.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlrv:00126
    DOI: 10.20955/r.101.297-329
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Sumit Agarwal & John C. Driscoll & Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2009. "The Age of Reason: Financial Decisions over the Life Cycle and Implications for Regulation," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 40(2 (Fall)), pages 51-117.
    3. Gale, William & Pence, Karen, 2006. "Are Successive Generations Getting Wealthier, and If So, Why?Evidence from the 1990s," MPRA Paper 55502, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Willaim G. Gale & Karen M. Pence, 2006. "Are Successive Generations Getting Wealthier, and If So, Why?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 37(1), pages 155-234.
    5. William R. Emmons & Lowell R. Ricketts, 2017. "College Is Not Enough: Higher Education Does Not Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Wealth Gaps," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, vol. 99(1).
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    Cited by:

    1. Kam C. Chan & Samuel Chang & Jean C. Snavely, 2022. "Effects of financial literacy on graduate school attitudes amidst COVID‐19," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 43(6), pages 2003-2015, September.
    2. Alexa Balmuth & Julie Miller & Samantha Brady & Lisa D’Ambrosio & Joseph Coughlin, 2021. "Mothers, Fathers, and Student Loans: Contributing Factors of Familial Conflict Among Parents Repaying Student Loan Debt for Children," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 42(2), pages 335-350, June.
    3. Sara Goldrick‐Rab & Marshall Steinbaum, 2020. "What Is The Problem With Student Debt?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 39(2), pages 534-540, March.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • I26 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Returns to Education

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