Black gender gap in education: Historical trends and racial comparisons


A 2011 study in Demography, “The Black Gender Gap in Educational Attainment: Historical Trends and Racial Comparisons” (PDF), uses Census data from 1940 to 2000, with additional data from the Census Bureau’s companion American Community Survey, to compare higher education completion rates for black men and women between 1940 and 2000.

The rates were then measured against comparable rates for white men and women during the same time period in order to build a fuller picture of racial progress — and the challenges to it — over time. The study was done by researchers at Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Key findings include:

  • The rate of college completion for African-American men and women has steadily risen, albeit slowly, since 1940.
  • Black women have consistently completed college at a higher rate than black men. Only 2% of black women completed college in 1940, more than twice the number of black men during the same year. By 2000, 15% of black women and 10% of black men had successfully earned a college degree.
  • Historically, “black women worked more [than white women] because black families had lower incomes, owing in part to black men’s higher unemployment rates and lower educational levels than white men… one legacy of slavery was that paid work was less socially stigmatized for black women.”
  • In 1940, more than half (56.9%) of college-educated African-American women and 35.9% of African-American men worked as teachers. By 2000, those percentages declined to 14.8% for black women and 10.3% for black men. This change is considered to be linked with increased professional opportunities for African-Americans. “In the 1970s, women moved into other occupations, including management, medicine, law and engineering. It is no surprise that white men were the mostly likely to occupy the most prestigious jobs over time in both the professions and the corporate world. College-educated black men, in contrast, were largely shut out of high-status occupations.”
  • The rising gender gap in rates of college completion between black men and women is largely attributable to black men delaying pursuing higher education opportunities. As individuals age, the likelihood that they will return to school steadily decreases over time, the study notes.

The researchers propose that educational achievement differences between male and female African-Americans are due to “black men’s lack of access to educational resources and high status occupations and black women’s higher incentives for education.” They also note that not all educational experiences are the same, influenced by the quality of learning, the availability of professional opportunities, and the age of college attendance.

Tags: African-American, race, poverty, higher education, women and work

Last updated: October 4, 2011


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