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Women are about to reach a new workplace milestone

This year, women will be a majority of the college-educated labor force for the first time.

According to Pew Research Center, 2019 is on track to be the year that more women than men hold a college degree in the workforce.

In the first quarter, 29.5 million women in the labor force held at least a bachelor’s degree, equaling the number of men – 29.3 million - who had one. That means that it’s likely that women will reach a new milestone and represent the majority of the college-educated labor force for the first time this year, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(In terms of absolute numbers, college-educated women have already surpassed men, but those numbers come with some statistical imprecision, says Pew Research Center senior researcher Richard Fry. “So what we’re saying is, as of the first quarter they’re at parity, they’re roughly matched.” When 2019’s final numbers come from the BLS, Fry expects women will have surpassed men.)

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“This will raise the economic clout of female adults in our society. As a general statement, employers value college-educated workers, they pay them more. Employers are going to need to respond to those rising numbers,” Fry told Yahoo Finance.

Source: Pew Research Center

Pay gap persists

Although this milestone is significant for women given the correlation between education and income level, they are still earning less than men. The median income for a college-educated man is $74,900; the median is $51,600 for women, according to Pew. The return on investment of a college degree for women is better reflected when the median earnings of a college-educated woman is compared to those of women overall – $51,600 vs. $36,000.

Although women surpassed men as the majority of college-educated adults in the overall population back in 2007, it has still taken over 10 years for women to reach this milestone in the workplace because women with college degrees are less likely to be in the labor force than men, according to Pew. In 2018, 70% of women with at least a bachelor’s degree were in the workforce, compared with 78% of their male counterparts.

Implications for US economy

More college-educated women in the workforce will boost the U.S. economy. College-educated workers only represent about a third of the U.S. population, yet they’re responsible for 57% of the economy’s earnings – $4.7 trillion out of $8.4 trillion in total labor market earnings in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The fact that more women are college educated both benefits themselves, and also boosts the productive capabilities of the economy. This is good for all of us, males or females,” says Fry.

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