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Why Women Benefit From Going to College

“Gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive,” declares the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018. Here’s a closer look at what women stand to gain from going to college, along with why this issue should matter to everyone -- regardless of gender.

Mar 13, 2019
  • Education
  • International News
Why Women Benefit From Going to College

“Gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive,” declares the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018. And while bridging the gender gap through educational attainment is imperative on a macro level, it’s also accompanied by profound benefits when viewed from a micro perspective, too. In short, attending university makes a very real difference in the lives of women.

Here’s a closer look at what women stand to gain from going to college, along with why this issue should matter to everyone -- regardless of gender.

Growing Numbers, Good Reasons

College enrollment numbers for women are increasing all over the world. In fact, the ratio of women to men in tertiary education is now higher in more than 100 countries, according to data shared by The Independent. Everywhere from Barbados and Bahrain to Surinam and Sri Lanka, women are outnumbering men on college campuses.

This is good news for women, as evidence consistently shows the impact of a college degree on employment prospects and earning potential alike. According to the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU), bachelor’s degree holders are twice as likely to be employed as their peers with just high school degrees, and also make an average of $1 million in additional earnings over their lifetimes. They are also more likely to have health insurance and even enjoy a longer life expectancy. In other words, college degrees correlate with a good quality of life across many measures.

While it must be noted that a gender pay gap remains, with women earning just 81 cents for every dollar earned by men, educational gains play a critical role in leveling the playing field.

A Boon for Single Moms

One demographic of women positioned for powerful gains with a bachelor’s degree? Single mothers. Data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) reveals single mothers with college degrees earn more than $610,000 over the course of their lifetimes and are 69 percent less likely to live in poverty than their non-college-educated counterparts.

This, in turn, is better for the economy: Over the course of a single year, single mothers with college degrees will contribute a staggering $7.8 billion more in taxes over their lifetimes than single moms with high school diplomas.

The takeaway, according to IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, PhD? “Investing in single mothers’ college completion is an underutilized strategy for reducing poverty and closing persistent postsecondary achievement gaps. Short-term investments in single mothers’ college success pay off enormously, and across multiple generations, after they graduate.”

The Power of Studying Abroad

We’ve established that college degrees are good for women. For many people, international study experiences amplify the significance of those degrees.

Engineer Fatima Afzal recently wrote about the invaluable role studying abroad in Malaysia played in her career success. “It was a different educational experience to one that I had had before; adapting to life in a multicultural hotspot and interacting in an environment where everyone was multilingual,” she contends.

But it was exactly that experience that gave her the inside edge on the job market. “On finishing my placement it became clear to me how valuable my time overseas had been in contributing to my personal and professional development. I had gained an ability to quickly link academic knowledge and apply the essential practical skills required in real life, which helped in completing my dissertation. The second was my strong candidate appeal to companies when applying for a graduate job,” she added.

For women looking to harness the full potential of their college degrees, pursuing study and work opportunities abroad may be an effective avenue for doing so. Afzal concludes, “Looking back, working and living abroad at the start of my career really equipped me with the essential skills to kick-start my career progression. My advice to all future students is to embrace moving outside your comfort zone and participate in placements abroad when given the opportunity.”

The Satisfaction Factor

Given women have so much to gain from going to college, it is not surprising they hold higher education in higher regard than men do. A Pew Research Center study reveals college-educated women were much more enthusiastic about the positive impact higher education had on their lives than men. They also felt more strongly toward about intrinsic benefits of college, as well as about the degree to which college had improved the quality of their lives.

One area of ambivalence was the increasing prominence of women in higher education, the survey found. Kimberly C. Parker, associate director of the Pew Social and Demographics Trends Project, said, “the public has mixed views about this, being supportive of women’s myriad accomplishments, but cautious about the possibility of that success coming at the expense of men.”

Recognizing Women As Assets

The good news? It doesn’t have to. As it turns out, the success of women is a universal asset -- starting at universities themselves. While a working paper on female managers and gender disparities indicates adding more female chairs to university departments supports the success of other female academics, it also proposes that the implications are even greater.

“The lesson from this paper is not that it is always necessarily better for a woman to work in a female-chaired department, or that chairs show favoritism towards individuals of their own gender. Rather, this research reinforces other findings that suggest managers from different backgrounds often take different approaches, highlighting the value of diversity among decision-makers,” author Andrew Langan insists.

And empowering women -- which starts with equal access to education -- is beneficial for the workforce and society as a whole. Leah Jackson Teague, JD, associate dean and professor of law at Baylor University School of Law, makes this case in her paper “Higher Education Plays Critical Role in Society: More Women Leaders Can Make a Difference.”

She writes, “Imagine that a senior leader is charged with solving significant issues for the entity but is only allowed to use half his team to do so. Imagine that a leadership team of an unprofitable company within a struggling, but critically important industry is charged with finding solutions to save the company, and perhaps even the industry, yet the team does not include representation from sixty percent of the consumers and talent within the industry. [...] Corporations around the world are learning that the creation of an environment that welcomes and supports a diverse workforce, is more likely to increase an organization's’ profitability, productivity, innovation, employee satisfaction, and social responsibility.”

This dynamic carries over from the business world to academia and beyond. In short, if we do not support equitable education attainment, we are failing to aspire to our full (collective) potential.

One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to women going to college? Just as degrees matter for women, they also matter for men. In fact, as women have increased their foothold in higher education, rates of enrollment among men have fallen, making them “the new college minority,” according to The Atlantic. This, too, is an issue that needs to be addressed -- and for the same reason. With diversity the goal, both men and women are needed -- in college, in the workforce, and in society at large.

Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.