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

  • Martha J. Bailey
  • Susan M. Dynarski

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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17633.pdf
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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. Cascio, Elizabeth U. & Lewis, Ethan Gatewood, 2005. "Schooling and the AFQT: Evidence from School Entry Laws," IZA Discussion Papers 1481, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2004. "College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay For It," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number hoxb04-1, August.
  3. Sarah Turner, 2004. "Going to College and Finishing College.Explaining Different Educational Outcomes," NBER Chapters, in: College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay For It, pages 13-62 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Tara Watson & Sara McLanahan, 2010. "Marriage Meets the Joneses: Relative Income, Identity, and Marital Status," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-06, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  5. Caroline Minter Hoxby, 2004. "Introduction to "College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay For It"," NBER Chapters, in: College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay For It, pages 1-12 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Ming-Ching Luoh, 2003. "Gender Differences in Completed Schooling," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(3), pages 559-577, August.
  7. Thomas S. Dee, 2005. "A Teacher Like Me: Does Race, Ethnicity, or Gender Matter?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 158-165, May.
  8. 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.
  9. Pierre-Andre Chiappori & Murat Iyigun & Yoram Weiss, 2006. "Investment in Schooling and the Marriage Market," DEGIT Conference Papers c011_034, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
  10. Sara Mclanahan, 2004. "Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition," Demography, Springer, vol. 41(4), pages 607-627, November.
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