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Heterogeneous returns to college over the life course.


College graduates earn higher wages than high school graduates by age 30. Among women, the advantages of a college degree decline somewhat as they age, although they are still substantial at age 50; for men, the advantage of a college degree grows throughout the life cycle. Most previous research on returns to higher education has focused on income at a single point in time or averaged over multiple years; our contribution is to study how returns vary by age. We also document how these patterns vary by the propensity of graduating from college. We find modest wage returns for mid-propensity college graduates, but large returns for low-propensity and, for men, high-propensity college graduates. Our results rely on propensity score–based matching combined with multilevel growth curve models applied to data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort.

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