Why Women Will Rule the Economy of the Future—in 1 Graph

If you wanted to sum up today's labor market in a single equation, it might go something like this: education = earning power. It's not as ironclad as e=mc2, but by and large, the higher your degree, the more income you can make, and the better your chance of staying employed. 

If the equation holds, women are poised to dominate our workforce in the coming years. With each passing decade, more Americans have gone to school and earned a higher degree. But as shown in this chart below, which I compiled from data in a pair of annual reports released by the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly all of that progress since 1975 has been among females (in GREEN).

Americans_College_Attainment_1975_2011.PNG

Women passed men in bachelor's attainment in 1995 and haven't looked back since. By 2000, a higher share of females were earning Master's degrees, where they now out-compete males 8.8 percent to 5.1 percent. The pattern has been similar across every racial demographic. Among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, women have simply made more progress.  

As Hanna Rosin once pointed out in "The End of Men," women do have a somewhat greater economic incentive than men to go to school. A young male with only a high school diploma earns $32,000 a year on average, whereas a young woman only makes about $25,000. But that doesn't change the obvious gains both genders reap from growing to school. If there's any upside for men in this data, it's that their educational attainment numbers have begun inching up in the last few years after stagnating for decades. Once on campus, they also still dominate highly-paid fields such as engineering and the sciences. But the more women who flock to higher education, the more headway we can expect them to make in those areas as well. For more than 35 years, women have made almost all the progress on campus. And there's no sign that's going to change soon. 

Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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