More Women Than Men Now Finishing College

Women Driving Trend of Higher Overall College Graduation Rates

Two Young Women Graduating from College
More Women Than Men Now Getting College Degrees. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

For the first time since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data on college graduation in 1940, women are more likely than men to have a bachelor’s degree.

In 2014, the nationwide college attainment of women for the first time surpassed that of men, with 30.2% of women holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29.9% of men.

According to data from the Census’ American Community Survey, the trend of women to “out-graduate” men shifted into high gear in 2005, when 28.5% of men had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 26.0% of women.

In 1940, fewer than 5% of the nation’s total population graduated from college, with men at 5.5% far more likely than women at only 3.8% to have a college degree.

Trend Driven by Younger Women

In fact, Census Bureau analysts say the nation’s trend toward higher college graduation rates has largely driven by younger women. “A 2004 publication noted that since 1996, young women age 25 to 29 have had higher college attainment rates than young men,” stated the Census Bureau’s Radom Samplings blog.

However, the Bureau also notes that older men and women display very different college graduation patterns. Among women between 25 and 34 years old, 37.5% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 29.5% of men in 2014. However, among women 65 and older, 20.3% had a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30.6% of men.

Speaking of women, the Census Bureau also found that in 2004, women who graduated from college earned about 76% more than women with only a high school diploma.

And In the Future

The Census Bureau predicts that in at least the “near future,” women will continue to earn college degrees in higher numbers than men, “simply as a result of younger people replacing older generations.” Youth will be served, you know?

But cheer up a bit young college-striving men, because the Census folks say you are at least starting to keep up young women in college graduation.

Since 2010, bachelor’s degrees earned by people ages 25 to 34 has increase by 2.6% for women and 2.4% for men, percentages the Bureau says “are not statistically different from one another.”

And Does College Ever Pay

Even if you end up having to pay back a wad in federal student loans, getting a college degree remains a great life move.

For example, the Census Bureau reported in 2005 that simply having a bachelor’s degree typically doubles a person’s annual income. The Bureau found that persons 18 and over with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,206 a year, compared to only $27,915 for those with a high school diploma. The gap grew even wider for people holding advanced college degrees.

Over the course of a lifetime, people with a bachelor’s degree will earn about $1.3 million more than those with a high school diploma alone.

And the more you learn the more you earn, according to the Census, with found that people with bachelor’s degrees have average lifetime earnings of $2.1 million, compared to $2.5 million for those with master’s degrees, and $3.4 to $4.4 million for persons with doctoral and post-doctoral degrees.

Of Course, You May Need That Money

It’s a good thing that college degrees increase lifetime earnings, because the burden of paying off the college loans often needed to earn them is increasing even faster.

In 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the sad news that more than 706,000 or about 4% of all U.S. households are now headed by retirees 65 years old or older who are still paying off college loans.

Specifically, a GAO survey found that the median amount of student loan debt owed by persons 65 and older was about $21,200 in 2014, up from about $13,600 in 1998.