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How Much Is An Education Worth?

Income data in the following tables is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' News Release on January 24, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/wkyeng.pdf. Specifically, the data is from Table 9. I calculated the 2 right-hand columns based on the Bureau's data displayed in the median income column. All year-round, full time workers 25 years old and older were included.  For access to the Bureau's historical and most recent online data, visit their web page at https://www.bls.gov/cps/earnings.htm#education.

Announcements for previous years' data are available via the following links:

Year-round, Full Time U.S. Male Workers 25 and over, 2016
number of workers: 56,284,000

Highest Education Attained

% of workers

Median Annual Income

Difference from previous step

Cumulative difference from 1st step

No HS diploma

8.71% $28,652    

High School graduate

27.75% 39,988 $11,336 $11,336

Some college or Associate degree (AA)

25.55% 46,592 6,604 17,940
Bachelor's degree (BA) and higher 37.98% 76,128 29,536 47,476

BA only

24.01% 70,096 23,504 41,444

advanced degree

13.97% 88,764 18,668 60,112

Year-round, Full Time U.S. Female Workers 25 and over, 2016
number of workers: 44,731,000
Highest Education Attained

% of workers

Median Annual Income

Difference from previous step

Cumulative difference from 1st step

No HS diploma

4.93%

$21,996    

High School graduate

22.03% 31,148 $9,152 $9,152

Some college or Associate degree (AA)

28.89%

35,776 4,628 13,780
Bachelor's degree (BA) and higher

44.15%

57,252 21,476 35,256

BA only

26.80%

51,688 15,912 29,692

advanced degree

17.35%

65,364 13,676 43,368

Women's Earnings versus Men's
Year-round, Full Time Workers 25 and over, 2016
Highest Education Attained

On average, men earned this much more than women in 2016

Women's earnings as a % of men's *

No HS diploma

$6,656 76.77%

High School graduate

8,840 77.89%

Some college or Associate degree (AA)

10,816 76.79%
Bachelor's degree (BA) and higher 18,876 75.20%

BA only

18,408 73.74%

advanced degree

23,400 73.64%

* If you drop the % sign, the contents of the third column in this table can be thought of as the amount women earned for every $100 earned by men.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual expenditures per household in the U.S. in 2015 was $55,978. That means that on average only men with a BA or advanced degree (21.84% of full time employed men), or women with an advanced degree (1.32% of full time employed women) could afford to head a household as a single earner. Most others would have to go into debt, or have one or more other household members work to make up the difference; or some combination of the two. This BLS report is available online at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also tracks the employment (and unemployment) status of the labor force. Here is its data as of January 2017.

You may find the most current version of this table at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm

For additional information on education and earnings

Education Pays

This BLS chart shows the effects of educational attainment on income and unemployment.

Information Please Almanac's Salary Data

The table on this web page uses the Census Bureau's data to compare men's and women's income from 1990.

Christian Science Monitor story "Growing Cost of Skipping College" (published March 3, 1999)

This article reports on the struggle of those without college educations as they attempt to keep up in a technological economy. It is based in part on the newly published "The Forgotten Half Revisited".

A Marketwatch.com Special Report: Back to School (published April 22-26, 2002)

This series, published in 5 parts, explores the efforts of workers to gain additional education, in part to benefit from the additional pay that comes with it. Here are links to each of the articles. Access to them may require a free registration.

  1. Heading back for grad school

  2. Biggest bang for the buck

  3. More women invest in grad school

  4. Online Graduate Degrees

  5. Financing A Graduate School Education

For additional information on "Wage Gaps"

The Wage Gap fact sheet from the National Committee on Pay Equity

The perceived meaning of a high school diploma

Public Agenda polled teachers, students, parents, employers and college professors asking whether they thought a high school diploma meant the recipient had "at least learned the basics". I found the results fascinating.  Sharing them with your students could lead to a very interesting discussion.

On June 21, 2006, Talk of the Nation broadcast a segment on the employability of High School grads (those who got a high school diploma, but pursued no further formal schooling). It should provide enlightening listening for those who believe that a high school diploma on its own is the key to success in the world of work.

If this worked well


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original web posting: Friday, December 11, 1998
last modified: Saturday, March 11, 2017