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All graduates get paid more—but for women, the premium is much higher than for men

Graduates from Columbia University's School of Journalism.
Reuters/Keith Bedford
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  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

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This article is more than 2 years old.

For women, a university degree really does pay. It may not be surprising to hear that graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates. But new research found that the pay premium for female graduates is much bigger than for men.

The researchers used government data on tax receipts and student loans to analyze how much people earned 10 years after they graduated from university in England. They found that women with degrees earned on average three times more than those without. Men earned twice as much as men who didn’t graduate.

The median earnings for a woman in her early 30s with a degree was £19,500 ($29,600). Women without degrees earned a median of £6,300. Men with degrees earned £25,200 by that point in their lives, while those without degrees were on £10,700. So although the overall income disparity between men and women—regardless of qualifications—was confirmed by the research, it underscored how women can boost their earning power by more, relatively speaking, with a university degree.

Almost all of the very low paid people in the UK did not attend university, and most of them are women, the researchers noted. The earnings prospects for women who didn’t graduate were “almost uniformly very bad,” the researchers said. In the 2012-13 tax year, only about 10% of that group earned over £20,000 ($30,000).

Interestingly, the researchers studied the anonymized tax records of 260,000 graduates, using a “big data” approach for the first time in this kind of work in England, according to Anna Vignoles, one of the researchers and professor of education at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. The work was carried out in a “highly secure data enclave” on British tax authority premises, the researchers noted. Tax receipts are more reliable than survey data, which relies on people accurately self-reporting their pay.

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