Study: Women Are Better Educated, But Poorer, Than Men

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Study: Women Are Better Educated, But Poorer, Than Men

Emily Crockett

It will take more than a college degree to lift women out of poverty, according to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Some commentators argue that with more women earning college degrees than men, and with more value being placed on “soft skills,” it’s just a matter of time before men start losing out to women in the workplace. A new report shows just how far the United States is from that reality.

The report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) on women’s poverty and opportunity finds that despite significant gains in educational achievement, women earn less and have higher poverty levels than men in all 50 states.

IWPR found that more women than men have a bachelor’s degree or higher in 29 states, and the share of women with that level of education has increased in every state and the District of Columbia since 2000. Women made up 57 percent of college students from 2012 to 2013.

At the same time as more women have earned a degree, however, more women have slipped into poverty: The percentage of women living above the poverty line declined from 87.9 in 2002 to 85.4 in 2013.

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The problem doesn’t get better with younger generations, according to the report. In every state, millennial women were found to be more likely than millennial men to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher—and also more likely to live in poverty (22.4 percent of millennial women, compared to 16.8 percent of millennial men).

The report found that millennial women are more likely to live in poverty than women as a group, partly because they are of childbearing age and have high levels of student debt. Single mothers in particular were found to experience much higher poverty rates than other groups.

IWPR estimates that the poverty level for working women would be cut in half if women earned as much as men of similar age, education, and hours worked.

“Despite their significant educational progress, women remain more economically vulnerable than men and this is especially true for millennials, who represent the future of our labor market and economy,” IWPR President Heidi Hartmann said in a statement.

Race is also a significant factor in women’s poverty and achievement, the study found: Native American, Black, and Hispanic women are all more than twice as likely to live in poverty as white women. While almost 33 percent of white women have a bachelor’s degree or higher, close to 22 percent of Black women and about 15 percent of Native American and Hispanic women do.

There was some good news for women of color: They now own 32 percent of all women-owned businesses, a share that has almost doubled since 1997. But only about three in ten U.S. businesses are women-owned, and those businesses are concentrated in female-dominated fields that make less money.

The IWPR report gave states a letter grade on women’s poverty and opportunity based on the percentage of women living above the poverty line and women’s access to health insurance, a college education, and business ownership.

Only the District of Columbia, which has demographics more similar to a city than a state, got higher than a B+. Despite high marks in other categories, however, the District has high levels of inequality and got one of the worst scores on women in poverty.

A majority of states (29) scored worse than they did a decade ago on IWPR’s poverty and opportunity metric.

Another recent IWPR report, the first of seven in its “The Status of Women in the States” series, found that of all the states and the District of Columbia, only the District deserved an A on women’s employment and earnings.