April 26, 2011 -- The gap between employed women and men with college degrees has widened, according to data from the Census Bureau today. Thirty-seven percent of employed women have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 35 percent of men, according to 2010 census figures.
The figures released today in the Census Bureau's "Educational Attainment in the United States: 2010" analyze the education levels of Americans age 25 and older. The 25-year level was set to account for those who take extra time to finish school.
The widest gap in education levels exists among people between the ages of 25 and 30. Thirty-six percent of women in this range hold bachelor's degrees or higher, compared to only 28 percent of men.
"Women are just outpacing men generally in higher education today," said Alan Berube, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. "More of them are going to college and then more of them are actually succeeding and getting a degree, specifically bachelor degrees."
Women in the workforce first surpassed men in obtaining college degrees in 2006 when 34 percent of working women held bachelor's degrees, compared to 33 percent of men. The 2010 data shows the greatest gap between women and men in the workforce, but the overall population of women age 25 and over with college degrees still lags behind men by 0.7 percent
"This is going to change the calculus in households about whose time in the labor market is more valuable," Berube said. "It will change the default assumptions about who is going to raise kids, who's going to do housework, who's got the most earning power, and really, at the end of the day, educational attainment is the best predictor of earnings."
Beyond the undergraduate level, almost 10.6 million women hold master's degrees or higher, compared to nearly 10.5 million men. Women also outpace men in the education and health services field, while men surpass women in fields such as manufacturing, agriculture and construction. Analysts link these disparities to the economic downturn.
"Women tend to be in industries and occupations that were less affected by the economic downturn – education, healthcare, and government," Berube said. "In many ways, the recession was a male recession. Industries like manufacturing, construction and finance were more heavily affected."
Today's data offers the most detailed look yet at education attainment across the country.
"This year we added more information," Sonia Collazo, a Census Bureau demographer, said. "We can see that there's more people finishing school, more people finishing bachelor's degrees or high school than previous years, especially bachelor's or advanced degrees."
In 2010, 87 percent of adults had at least a high school diploma, up 3 percent over the past decade. Thirty percent of adults held bachelor's degrees or higher.
Asians surpassed all populations in holding college degrees. Over half of the Asian population in the U.S. holds bachelor's degrees or higher, compared to 33 percent of whites, 20 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics.
But while the data show gains in the number of people completing college or advanced degrees, a significant share of the population is still not finishing college or high school.
Fifteen percent of the population in 2010 were high school dropouts, with 1 percent of the population reaching 12th grade before quitting, 2 percent reaching 11th grade and 2 percent earning a GED.
On the college level, 17 percent of the population attended college without receiving a degree, and 4 percent left graduate school before completing their degree.