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Study: More Education Leads to Higher Pay, But Not for All

By guest blogger Nora Fleming

Higher degrees do make a difference on lifelong income, though race, gender, and ethnicity still have a substantial impact on wages, regardless of education level, a study released today from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce concludes.

In general, a high school dropout can expect to earn $973,000 over a lifetime, on average, while a professional degree-holder can expect to earn $3.6 million. However, race, ethnicity, and gender are "wild cards," researchers report, that still "matter more than education or occupation in determining earnings."

Women, blacks, and Latinos are paid less than all other groups. At the graduate level, Asians make more than any other group, including whites.

But there are also occupations that pay employees high wages regardless of educational attainment, the study found, meaning workers who did not graduate from high school or college are able to earn more than those with professional degrees. Construction work pays the best for those with more limited education, and jobs in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—can still pay substantial salaries regardless of degree.

On average, 7.3 percent of those with less than a high school diploma earn more than the median bachelor degree-holder. Still, on average, "within an occupation, workers with higher educational attainment almost always make more than those with less," the study found. Doctors (who spend significant time in school) still make more on average than any other occupation, totaling roughly $6 million through the course of their careers. Managerial positions, however, can pay more even though people in those jobs may not have as much education as those in other occupations--or even the workers they supervise.

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