College degree widens gender earnings gap

Among the educated, women earn 74 cents for every dollar men make

By Jennifer Cheesman Day/U.S. Census Bureau

WASHINGTON D.C. – More education leads to higher earnings but the gender pay gap is wider among men and women with a bachelor’s degree than among those without.

Among workers with a bachelor’s degree, women earn 74 cents for every dollar men make, which is less than the 78 cents for workers without the college degree.

While workers with a bachelor’s degree earn about double that of their co-workers without a college education, the difference between men’s and women’s earnings widens with more education.

Age and job choice can affect the size of the pay gap.


Women workers with a bachelor’s degree are younger on average and many are years away from the earnings peak usually reached by people in their 50s.

Higher pay reflects years of work experience and pay raises. The earnings differences between men and women also peak in their 50s, although men on average earn more at every age than their female counterparts.

Among workers with a bachelor’s degree, women are considerably younger, on average, than men (median ages of 42 vs. 45). This results in a larger pay gap, as women have had less time to accumulate experience and pay raises.

In contrast, working women without a bachelor’s degree are, on average, older than male workers without a bachelor’s (median ages of 47 vs. 45), which tends to narrow the pay gap.   


At all ages in both education groups, men outnumber women except for the youngest age group (25-29) with a bachelor’s degree.

The influx in recent decades of college-educated women has driven their numbers to record levels. In fact, the number of women working full time, year-round with a bachelor’s degree is almost equal to men’s (18 million women and 21 million men).  

Women are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than men (41.7% compared with 36.2%) among full-time, year-round workers. This is particularly true for workers under age 60.

As older educated male workers age out of the labor force, this pattern of the college-educated workforce dominated by women may continue. Of note, male workers without a bachelor’s degree make up the largest group by far.    


In some occupations, the earnings gap virtually disappears.

The mixture of the jobs men and women hold, and the earnings differences among these occupations, also contribute to the overall earnings gap.

This interactive visualization illustrates these relationships for about 400 occupations. It provides easy comparisons of median earnings differences by median age for men and women workers by occupation.

Among the highlights:

  • In many occupations, the earnings gap doesn’t exist, such as with phlebotomists, electricians, and social workers. This is particularly noticeable when accounting for educational attainment.
  • Women and men workers concentrate in different occupations.

Among full-time, year-round workers, some of the largest occupations for women are secretaries and administrative assistants, registered nurses, and elementary and middle school teachers. For men, the list includes driver/sales workers and truck drivers, first-line supervisors of retail sales workers, janitor and building cleaners, and construction laborers.

  • All of the largest occupations with over 1 million full-time workers (large circles on the graph) show some degree of earnings gap between men and women. This pattern remains for most of these occupations even when accounting for educational attainment.
  • Occupations in which men are, on average, older than women have higher earnings on average, compared with occupations in which women are older.
  • Selecting between the two educational attainment options shows a significant effect of more education on earnings for most occupations, for both men and women. It also displays a noticeable shift to a younger labor force, particularly for women.

Statistics in this story are from the Detailed Occupation and Education Table Package and an analysis of 2017 data from the American Community Survey.

Jennifer Cheeseman Day is a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Communications Directorate.