Beyond education and market access : gender differences in how human capital and ability translate into market outcomes
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Although the gender gap in educational attainment has significantly narrowed and women have gained access to higher paying professions in greater numbers, it remains uncertain what their occupational outcomes look like beyond labor market entry. Despite the multitude of market opportunities such progress in human capital accumulation presumably affords, women’s educational outcomes, particularly economic return to education, remain persistently different from those of their male counterparts. The study sets out to examine this problem, applying perspectives from the human capital theory and feminist theories. More specifically, it addresses the following questions: Are there gender differences in how human capital and ability translate into market outcomes? In a relatively homogenous sample where men’s and women’s abilities do not significantly differ, do their earnings look different? If so, why? In a sample of women with high earning potential, what influences their work and career decisions? Do such influences differ for their male counterparts? The study relies on quantitative and qualitative survey data gathered from male and female graduates of the Harvard Class of 1986 fifteen years after college. Despite the high degree of homogeneity within the sample, it was found that significant gender differences exist in their market outcomes (primarily measured by earnings), occupational decisions, and employment sectors. Given the family care arrangements within their households, women’s career decisions and outcomes are more constrained by market conditions and occupational structures, relative to their male counterparts. Given that this is a privileged sample of men and women, the findings may not be generalizable. However, the results in this study may be an important measure of how far we have come and how much further we have to go as a society in creating career opportunities for women in the market. In addition, the findings in this study may offer some insights into the rhetoric versus reality of market promises associated with educational investment, and the extent to which educational opportunities translate into labor market opportunities. It may also bring to light some market barriers that undermine the efforts of educators within the academic institutions.