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A Follow-Up: Occupations and Educational Attainment

April 30, 2013

by Jeff Pinkerton

A few weeks ago, we looked at how certain occupations tended to be dominated by one gender or another. Some occupations had unusual proportions of minority workers. Lower-paid occupations tended to have higher numbers of women and non-white workers. This was particularly true for non-whites.

This called into question the role of educational attainment. Is it really race or gender that drives these discrepancies, or does it have more to do with education levels? Today, we will try to shed some light on the role of educational attainment in this occupation question.

First, let’s look at educational attainment by race in the Kansas City area. The chart below shows that the white, non-Hispanic population has an overall higher level of educational attainment than non-Hispanic minorities and Hispanics — 36 percent of whites aged 25-and-over have at least a bachelor’s degree, and only 7 percent have less than a high school education. In contrast, more than one-third of the Hispanic population has less than a high school education and just 16 percent have a bachelor’s degree or greater. The non-white, non-Hispanic population falls in the middle of these two groups.

Education Chart 1 (Race)

Interestingly, when we compare by gender (regardless of race or ethnicity) there is no significant difference between male and female levels of education. The chart below shows that for both men and women, roughly one-third have at least a bachelor’s degree and about 10 percent have less than a high school education.

Education Chart 2 (Gender)

Analyzing this data, it would appear that education does play a significant role in the occupation mix for minorities. Lower overall levels of education often translate into jobs that do not require high levels of skill and therefore offer lower pay.

Now, the question is what causes this disparity in educational attainment? Volumes have been written on this topic and there are numerous initiatives underway right here in Kansas City to begin to address this issue. Unfortunately, this is an issue that will likely take generations to resolve.

On the gender side, education is not a factor, but there still appears to be stereotyping in certain occupations. We addressed this in a previous post. The belief that teaching and nursing jobs are for women while engineers and business executives should be men are old-fashioned, but they do persist. Many of the occupations traditionally dominated by women tend to pay less. This, too, is changing, but it is also changing slowly.

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