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New Survey Finds Women Value Higher Education More Than Men

August 23, 2011

A new Pew Research Center survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,142 adults ages 18 and older has found that a majority of Americans believe higher education is necessary in order to achieve success. However, Americans are somewhat more inclined to see this credential as a necessity for a woman than for a man. Some 77 percent of survey participants said women need a college degree to be successful, while only 68 percent believed this about men.

In addition, women with bachelor's degrees are much more likely than men to value the American educational system. About 50 percent of female baccalaureates say that the nation's higher education system is doing an excellent or good job in providing value for the money invested by students and families. In contrast, this view is shared by only 37 percent of similarly educated men, and by just 40 percent of all American adults.

Female college graduates are also much more likely than their male peers to say their postsecondary education experiences were useful professionally and personally. Roughly 58 percent of women with bachelor's degrees said their higher education institutions prepared them for a job or career, versus 52 percent of men. In addition, 81 percent of women say that their postsecondary education was "very useful" in increasing their knowledge and helping them to grow intellectually; only 67 percent of men hold this belief. College-educated women are also more likely than their male counterparts to say that their postsecondary education experiences helped them grow and mature as a person (73 percent versus 64 percent).

Concerns about College Costs

While women are more likely to view their postsecondary experiences positively, they are also more likely to express concerns about rising higher education expenses. Only 14 percent of all female baccalaureates said that four-year colleges and universities are affordable to most Americans, compared with 26 percent of their male peers. Among all U.S. adults, 22 percent believe four-year colleges and universities are affordable; 75 percent believe they are generally unaffordable.

There are also substantial gender differences in sources used to pay higher education expenses. About 40 percent of the female bachelor's degree holders said their parents paid most of their undergraduate costs, compared with 29 percent of men. On the other hand, 29 percent of men said they paid most of these expenses themselves compared with 19 percent of women.

Recent Enrollment Trends

Recent enrollment and graduation patterns reflect women's generally optimistic views about American higher education. From 1967 to 2009, the share of female young adults (18-to-24-year olds) enrolled in higher education jumped from 19 percent to 44 percent. The share of similarly aged men attending grew only modestly-from 33 percent to 38 percent. More significantly, the percentage of women aged 25 to 29 who achieved a bachelor's degree or higher increased from just 9 percent in 1964 to 36 percent in 2010. The share of men in this age category with higher education degrees grew from 16 percent to 28 percent. Women now account for 55 percent of new college graduates in the 25-to-29 age category; in 1964, new female graduates constituted just 37 percent of the total.

Generally, most Americans view the enrollment and graduation swings positively. About half the general public believes the shift in postsecondary education success from majority male to majority female has been good for society, while 39 percent say that it has not made much of a difference, and only 7 percent view it negatively.

A full copy of the report is available for no charge from the Pew Research Center Web site.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis