Looking at the latest wage data by education level

Earlier this week, I analyzed the latest wage data by percentile, which shows that inequality has grown since the last business cycle peak in 2007. Today, I’m going to discuss the latest wage data by education groups. The main takeaways are four-fold. First, women are consistently paid less than men across all education groups. Second, wages have increased more for those with a college or advanced degree than for those with lower levels of education, both in the past year and since 2007. Third, the increase in the college premium since 2007 is dwarfed by the growth in wage inequality generally. And fourth, much of the increase in wages in the last few years has been driven by historically low inflation, as opposed to strong or accelerating nominal wage growth.

The table below shows first half (FH) average wages for 2007, 2015, and 2016 by highest level of education attainment and by gender. You can see that at every level of education, men are paid more than women—illustrating the difficulty of women to educate their way out of the gender wage gap. In fact, the gap grows with increasing levels of education. One particular striking finding is that men with just a bachelor’s degree are paid more, on average, than women with an advanced degree.

Table 1

Average hourly wages by education and gender, FH2007–FH2016 (FH2016 dollars)

 Less than high school  High school  Some college  College  Advanced degree
FH2007 $13.26 $17.42 $19.72 $30.58 $38.77
FH2015 $12.81 $17.08 $18.78 $31.03 $39.87
FH2016 $13.01 $17.14 $19.09 $31.87 $40.76
Percent change
2015-2016 1.6% 0.4% 1.7% 2.7% 2.2%
2007-2016 -1.8% -1.6% -3.2% 4.2% 5.1%
FH2007 $14.37 $19.34 $22.22 $35.38 $44.61
FH2015 $13.87 $18.80 $21.10 $35.50 $46.47
FH2016 $14.17 $18.78 $21.31 $36.89 $47.84
Percent change
2015-2016 2.2% -0.1% 1.0% 3.9% 2.9%
2007-2016 -1.4% -2.9% -4.1% 4.3% 7.2%
FH2007 $11.33 $15.16 $17.43 $25.91 $32.66
FH2015 $11.05 $14.77 $16.64 $26.72 $33.98
FH2016 $11.07 $14.90 $17.03 $27.01 $34.49
Percent change
2015-2016 0.2% 0.8% 2.4% 1.1% 1.5%
2007-2016 -2.3% -1.7% -2.3% 4.2% 5.6%

Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata

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Meanwhile, the college wage premium continues to grow, albeit slowly. Average wages of workers with a college degree ($31.87) are nearly twice that of those with a high school degree only ($17.14). And that gap has increased somewhat over the last year, particularly for men. The regression-adjusted college wage premium (a log wage regression controlling for gender, race and ethnicity, education, experience, and geographic division) was 57.6 percent in FH2016, up slightly from 55.1 percent in FH2007, an increase of 2.5 percentage points. (For longer terms trends in the college wage premium, refer to EPI’s new State of Working America Data Library.)

That said, it’s important to remember that the rise in the college premium is still dwarfed by rising wage inequality. Between FH2007 and FH2016, the 95-50 wage gap increased 9.2 percentage points1, with much larger increases for the top in recent years. In other words, a higher college wage premium is not a major driving force behind rising wage inequality in recent years or even in recent decades. And since this rise in the college wage premium is sometimes said to reflect technologically-induced skill shortages, it follows that such skill deficits are not driving wage inequality.

Finally, the figure below illustrates changes in hourly wages for all five education categories between the first half of 2007 and the first half of 2016. Average wages of workers with less than a college degree are still lower than they were nine year ago, before the Great Recession began. Also, what’s important to note in this figure is the across the board increase in real average wages for all education group between FH2014 and FH2015 and a somewhat slower increase between FH2015 and FH2016. Unfortunately, much of the real (that is, inflation-adjusted) growth in wages has been driven by historically low inflation, zero inflation in the case of FH2014 to FH2015. Low inflation is not a reliable or sustainable way to generate growth in living standards.

Figure A

Change in average hourly wages by education, FH2007–FH2016

FH Year Less than high school High school Some college College Advanced degree
2007 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
2008 -3.0% -0.9% -1.5% -1.0% 0.0%
2009 0.2% 1.6% -0.6% 1.1% 4.0%
2010 -3.7% -0.6% -1.8% 0.0% 3.4%
2011 -5.2% -2.2% -4.7% -2.1% -0.2%
2012 -6.4% -3.3% -6.5% -2.3% 2.4%
2013 -7.1% -3.9% -6.5% -1.1% 2.5%
2014 -7.6% -5.0% -7.4% -2.7% -0.2%
2015 -3.4% -2.0% -4.8% 1.5% 2.8%
2016 -1.8% -1.6% -3.2% 4.2% 5.1%
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The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata

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1. This is the percentage point change in the log difference of the 95-50 wage ratio. I’ve logged the wage values here to put them in the same terms as the college wage premium differences, which are based on a log wage regression.