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In a milestone, most college-educated workers in the U.S. are now women

  • As of early 2019, 29.5 million women in the U.S. labor force had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 29.3 million men.
  • Overall, 50.2% of the college-educated workforce is female, although American women still make up slightly less than half of the working population aged 25 and older. 
  • Despite making strides in education, Census data show that women with bachelor's degrees earn only 74 cents to every dollar a similarly credentialed man makes.  

For the first time, women with college degrees in the U.S. outnumber their male peers in the labor force. Women now represent majority of the county's college-educated workforce, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal labor data.

The milestone comes as education increasingly correlates with employees' income in the U.S. As of 2017, workers aged 25 and older without a college degree aged 25 earned $41,900 a year, while those with a bachelor's earned $61,300, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As of the first quarter of 2019, 29.5 million women in the labor force had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 29.3 million men. Overall, 50.2% of the college-educated workforce is female, although American women still make up slightly less than half of the working population aged 25 and older, Pew found. This pattern has continued as older, college-educated men age out and exit the labor force.

The stubborn reasons the gender pay gap isn't going away

Females have long outnumbered males in college, with the former earning more bachelor's degrees in the U.S. since the 1981-82 academic year. And since 2000, women have also enrolled in college at a higher rate than men. Yet only in 2019 has that trend resulted in a workplace majority for college-educated women. 

In part, that's because women with degrees are often less likely than men to seek employment after graduating. Nearly 70% of women with college degrees were in the labor force in 2018, compared to the roughly 78% of working men with degrees. 

While the number of college-educated women has continued to climb, they remain significantly underrepresented in certain professions. In many science, technology, math, and engineering, or STEM, occupations, for instance, women make up less than 30 percent of college-educated employees. 

The flood of women into higher education also has yet to smash the "glass ceiling" that has long blocked their rise into upper management. Only 33 female CEOs lead Fortune 500 companies today, according to Fortune

How longer work hours are widening the gender gap

Even women with advanced degrees aren't immune -- a study by career services site Glassdoor shows that women with MBA degrees have among the largest gender pay gaps of any educated group. Overall, Census data show that women with bachelor's degrees earn 74 cents to every dollar a similarly credentialed man makes. This gap is even wider than between men and women without bachelor's degrees: a non-college-educated woman makes 78 cents to every dollar of a non-college-educated man.

In its report, Glassdoor attributed some of the gender pay disparity to differences in occupation. Many female-dominated jobs, such as teaching, offer lower-paying salaries than male-dominated careers. Experts have noted that gender bias around certain jobs often pushes women to enter lower-paying fields. 

Regardless of their level of education, many women also face circumstances outside of the workplace that may affect their salary or career prospects. According to a study from the U.K.'s Institute for Fiscal Studies, women with children earn approximately 30% less than their male counterparts. Women without children, on the other hand, typically earn 10% less than men. 

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