Maybe men are smart to skip college

by Grace

Percent of U.S. Adults Ages 25-29 With a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher, 1969-2009

Maybe men are avoiding college because it offers them a lower ROI compared to women, at least in the short term.

Men without college degrees face better job prospects than equivalently educated women, at least in the short term. That makes the consequences of dropping out appear smaller for men.

The paper, by sociologists Rachel Dwyer and Randy Hodson of Ohio State University and Laura McCloud of Pacific Lutheran University, used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to look at the educational and employment experiences of more than 6,500 Americans born between 1980 and 1984. Unsurprisingly, going to college boosted earnings for both men and women. But the gap was much wider for women. After controlling for various demographic factors, the researchers found that female graduates earned more than $6,500 more per year than women with just a high school diploma, and more than $4,500 more than women who dropped out of college. Male graduates, by contrast, earned only about $2,700 more than high school graduates, and about the same amount as male college drop-outs.

The findings are consistent with past research, which has showed that jobs are much more gender-segregated in low-education occupations. Female drop-outs tend to concentrate in low-paying service-sector jobs, whereas less-educated men are more likely to find work in better-paying industries such as manufacturing and construction.

“Women experience a much larger immediate economic penalty for not graduating from college than do men,” the authors write. “Female dropouts simply face worse job prospects than do male dropouts.”

This might play a role in motivating women to do well in high school.

“Young men who see high school friends with relatively well-paying jobs may resist taking on debt to gain a degree with uncertain returns,” the authors write. “At the same time, young women who see friends in low-paying female-dominated jobs, such as retail cashier or day care worker, may be spurred to stay in school, even with debt.”

Over the long term, skipping college may not be such a smart move.

… The wage gap between men with and without bachelor’s degrees starts small but grows over time as better-educated men enjoy more opportunities for career advancement. And as the recession showed, those well-paying jobs in construction and manufacturing can disappear quickly and be slow to return….


6 Comments to “Maybe men are smart to skip college”

  1. Bonnie, the data is for workers BORN between 1980 and 1984, making their entrance into the workforce between about 2000 and 2008. This is fairly recent, after a major decline in the number of union jobs.


  2. “Jobs in manufacturing and construction are in a death spiral.”

    They are now, but some of this is related to our long-term depressed economy.

    Thanks for pointing out Douthat’s piece.


  3. The housing sector was out of control in the early 2000s, so it’s going to be hard to find a way back to a more natural level of construction spending after flippermania.

    There is so much construction going on in our mid-size Texas city. The downtown library is being refurbished, the college has tens of acres of major construction and renovation underway, ground has been broken for four-acre private apartment complex project for 700+ residents that’s going to go up near campus, ground has been broken for a huge new grocery store, I’m seeing fresh construction dirt all over town, and our formerly very depressing downtown is looking positively spiffy. Very recently, our kids’ school built a modest junior/senior high building and the city water park is now three times as big as it used to be (and they’re supposed to be putting in new stuff). I think the construction recession is officially over here.


  4. Greetings,

    I’m wondering if you were just being humorous in saying that men may be smart to skip college, particularly as you mention that the salary advantage is only valid for the short term?

    The steeply falling rate for male education attainment is disturbing and, perhaps not surprisingly under reported.



  5. I was “half joking”, as I see that skipping college does make sense for some men and women. At least, spending a few years working and earning good money before enrolling certainly is a viable option.


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