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Which Is More Consequential: Fields of Study or Institutional Selectivity?

From: The Review of Higher Education
Volume 37, Number 2, Winter 2014
pp. 221-247 | 10.1353/rhe.2014.0001



The persisting gender pay gap favoring men among college graduates is a puzzle given women’s remarkable success in postsecondary education. This article examines income disparities among recent college graduates by intersecting gender and social class and evaluating the relative importance of fields of study and institutional selectivity. Data from National Education Longitudinal Studies: 88–2000 and its postsecondary transcript data show that women reap less earnings advantage from selective institutions but similar advantages from lucrative fields compared to men. Our within-gender analysis shows that lucrative fields of study can offset the earnings disadvantages associated with less privileged social class and attending nonselective institutions for women, but not for men.

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