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The Female College Boom, Educational Mobility, and Overeducation in the United States

  • Author(s): Koppera, Vedant
  • Advisor(s): Kuhn, Peter J.
  • et al.

In this work I present three essays related to the rising number of female college graduates relative to men, intergenerational mobility in education, and the prevalence of overeducated workers during the great recession.

In the first chapter co-authored with Associate Professor Aashish Mehta (UC Santa Barbara), we ask whether shifting male and female employment patterns can help to explain why the US college boom between 1981 and 2005 was dominated by women. We make three contributions. First, we show that while a massive feminization of high-wage, high-skill occupations plausibly contributed to the female college boom, general, structural movements of labor (undifferentiated by gender) from industrial work into education-intensive services should have encouraged male rather than female college attendance. Previous work has suggested that both types of employment shifts would have contributed to the female college boom. Second, we show that women’s occupational upgrading was too large and ubiquitous to be explained by their growing educational advantage. This is consistent with a causal connection running from gendered employment trends to a female college boom. Third, we show that gender specializations in many occupations deepened, with college educated women gravitating towards jobs offering institutionally protected wages.

In the second chapter, I estimate the intergenerational transmission of education in the United States between 1980 and 2013. I find that intergenerational persistence in education has increased substantially among blacks in recent years while remaining stable among whites and Hispanics. I observe this trend when using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics as well as the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. I demonstrate that much of the increase in educational persistence among blacks is due to decreases in upward mobility. The increase in black educational persistence is found in both two-parent and single-parent households, and I do not find similar trends and differences when estimating intergenerational income persistence.

In the third and final chapter, I use the method introduced by Gottschalk and Hansen (2003) to analyze the rate of overeducation among workers with exactly a college degree between 2006 and 2013. To my knowledge, this is the first study to use this method to analyze trends in overeducation during the great recession in the U.S. I find that the proportion of workers with exactly a college degree working in occupations offering low college premiums increased during great recession and fell afterwards. An increase in the rate in overeducation could be due to more college-educated workers working in noncollege occupations that were noncollege in the past or because there was an increase in the number of noncollege occupations. I show that changes in the rate of overeducation are mostly due mostly to the latter. When shutting the down the flexibility for occupations to change from college to noncollege (and vice versa), the rate of overeducation increases only slightly between 2006 and 2013. Regardless, these findings run contrary to the secular decline of the rate of overeducation during the end of 20th century documented by previous research.

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