Shift Toward Greater Educational Attainment for Women Began 20 Years Ago

Written by: Kurt Bauman, Chief, Education and Social Stratification Branch

Statistics from the American Community Survey show women now lead men in college completion (see Women Now at the Head of the Class, Lead Men in College Attainment). Colleges have been graduating more women than men for more than 20 years, but what is new is that the advantage is no longer limited to new graduates and young women. Counting the entire population 25 and older, even women and men who are retired, women are ahead of men in college graduation. That is to say, the average adult woman in the U.S. is more likely to be a college graduate than the average adult man.

In order to better understand this change, the report “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015” assembles statistics on historical trends in men’s and women’s college graduation. The Current Population Survey has collected data on Americans’ educational attainment since 1967 and provides an unparalleled data set for looking at the education level of the population over a broad period of time.

To look more closely at what is happening to education levels of women and men, it helps to look at trends among younger people. Women age 25 to 29 have had higher college attainment rates than men of the same age since 1996. This higher rate is not limited to women in the United States. Nearly all the countries with advanced economies that form the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report that young women are ahead of young men in college completion.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of men and women in the U.S. population age 25 to 29 who had completed a bachelor’s or higher degree. Before 1986, men had higher college completion; from 1996 forward, women were in the lead. Across the period, women had a fairly steady increase in college attainment, while men’s attainment has been more subject to ups and downs.


Looking at the broader 25- to 34-year-old group (because sample sizes by race, gender and age group become too small for precise estimates), the increase in college completion of women relative to men is seen in all major race and Hispanic-origin groups (Figure 2).


The figure shows the college attainment of women relative to men of this age range for each race and Hispanic-origin group — a rise in the curve showing an increase in women’s attainment compared with men. In the early part of the period shown here, from 1976 to 1989, a smaller portion of young non-Hispanic white women than young non-Hispanic white men had bachelor’s degrees. By contrast, in this period young black women were not statistically different from young black men. Other sources show that by some measures they were actually ahead. Young Hispanic women were somewhere in between, sometimes ahead of their male counterparts, sometimes not. Data on Asian women and men are not available for this period.

In 1990, young Asian women were less likely to have completed a bachelor’s than young Asian men, and the gap was larger than for blacks, non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics. After that point, a transition took place. By 2010, young women of all these race and Hispanic-origin groups were more likely to have completed college than their young male counterparts (all comparisons 2010 to 2015 are statistically significant except for Asians in 2012 and 2014).

Research on this topic has not given us a clear answer as to why women have overtaken men in college attainment. Traditionally, researchers have looked at levels of education as being driven by the resources available, especially from families, and by the rewards of education, particularly earnings and occupational standing. Most research has concluded that the rewards of education for men and women have not shifted over time in a way that explains women’s higher attainment. An exception is work by Bachman and DiPrete holding that women benefit from education as “insurance against poverty” in a time of increasing family instability. Even if rewards haven’t shifted, women’s gains might have resulted from changes in resources for education (family encouragement and educational practices) that once may have favored men. Increasing age at marriage may have also played a role. Reviews on this subject are available from Aliprantis et al (2011) and Buchman and DiPrete (2008).

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Labor Force Participation Rates for An Aging World – 2015

Written by: Daniel Goodkind

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released An Aging World-2015, a report that examines the older population’s demographic, health and economic characteristics in the United States and around the world. The Census Bureau regularly tracks trends in international aging and examines their significance. In the coming decades, almost all countries will see an increase in their older population because of expected improvements in health and falling fertility.

Among the key findings highlighted in the report are the proportions of the older population in the labor force (e.g., those who are either employed or seeking employment). The labor force participation rate varies widely across age groups, countries and sex. For instance, at least 90 percent of men in their late 40s are in the labor force in most countries of the world. However, rates generally decline for each successively older age group.

By age 60 to 64, labor force participation rates among men and women were less than half the level for those age 45 to 49 in countries such as South Africa, Tunisia, Italy, Russia and Ukraine (Table 1). Another sizable decline is typically observed for age 65 and over. This is not unexpected, given that individuals may stop working because of increasing frailty, health issues or retirement options. Among women, labor force participation tends to be lower than men across the age groups. The lower proportions of women in the labor force reflect, in part, the fact that women perform unpaid work within a household, which clearly has value and would be expensive to replace but is not included in the formal definition.

There are also notable differences in labor force participation across countries. In general, countries with higher incomes per capita and more developed social security systems tend to have lower labor force participation among the older population. In contrast, in lower income countries, the notion of retirement may not make sense — the older population may need to continue to work, perhaps at a reduced level, until physically or mentally unable to do so.

In Table 1, we see that labor force participation remains above 50 percent for men age 65 and over in Zambia and Guatemala. The World Bank published labor force participation rates for the older population in 25 African countries for 2011 with rates exceeding 50 percent in 12 of the countries.

aging world table 1


At the other extreme are Germany and Italy with participation rates below 10 percent for those age 65 and over. The low labor force participation among Europe’s older population likely stems from its substantial economic resources, policies that encourage early retirement and patterns of public spending that provide security for the older population.

Labor force participation rates in the United States, on the other hand, lie well between the extremes of Africa and Europe. Labor force participation rates for U.S. males in 2012 were

88 percent at age 45 to 49, 60 percent at age 60 to 64, and 24 percent at age 65 and above, while U.S. female rates at these age groups were about 10 percentage points lower (76 percent, 50 percent and 14 percent, respectively).

Just as important are changes in labor force participation over time. Between 2001 and 2011, developed countries experienced an increase in labor force participation among the older population. In the United States, for instance, rates at ages 55 to 64 rose from 62 percent to

64 percent, while rates at ages 65 to 69 rose from 26 percent to 32 percent. Other countries with large increases in participation rates over the 2001 to 2011 period include Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.

In the less developed world, the picture was more mixed. There was no clear trend in labor force participation among males, among whom such participation was quite high — typically averaging almost 50 percent at ages 65 and over.

In contrast, labor force participation of older females in developing countries, among which labor force participation is typically under 10 percent, did evince a notable increase from those very low levels.

One of the key megatrends over the past dozen years has been an increase in labor force participation among older women around the world, but the gap between the labor force participation of older men and older women remains. Among the countries shown in Table 2, the gender gap in 2012 ranged from a low of 1.5 percentage points in France to a high of 51.4 percentage points in Guatemala.


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Growth or Decline: Understanding How Populations Change

Written By: Luke T Rogers and C Peter Borsella

With the release of the 2015 county and metro/micro area population estimates and components of change, we can explore the question – how did the United States population change in the last year? Demographers, researchers who study population change, begin to answer this question by looking at the components of change.  There are three components of change: births, deaths, and migration. The change in the population from births and deaths is often combined and referred to as natural increase or natural change.  Populations grow or shrink depending on if they gain people faster than they lose them.  Looking at an area’s unique combination of natural change and migration helps us understand why its population is changing, and how quickly the change is occurring.

Natural Increase

Natural change is the difference between births and deaths in a population. Often times, natural change is positive, which means that more babies are being born than people are dying. This positive natural change is referred to as natural increase. Examples of natural increase exist across the United States, one being the Salt Lake City metro area in Utah. Between 2014 and 2015, Salt Lake City had around 19,100 births and 6,400 deaths. Since there were about 12,700 more births than deaths, Salt Lake City had a natural increase of about 12,700 people, making natural increase a key reason why its population grew over the year.

The opposite of natural increase is called natural decrease, where more people are dying than babies being born, which can cause a population to shrink. Areas with aging populations often have natural decrease. Two states had natural decrease between 2014 and 2015, Maine and West Virginia. Between 2014 and 2015, Maine had 450 more deaths than births and West Virginia had 940 more deaths than births. In both cases, natural decrease was one of the reasons why their populations shrank between 2014 and 2015 in our latest estimates.


Migration is the movement of people from one area to another. It is often expressed as net migration, which is the difference between how many people move into and out of an area. When net migration is positive, a population has more people moving in than out. We split migration into domestic migration and international migration.

Domestic migration refers to people moving between areas within the United States, and is often one of the largest contributors to population change. Regionally, the South gains the most net domestic migrants, with roughly 440,000 more people moving into southern states than leaving them between 2014 and 2015. Sometimes net domestic migration is negative, in which case more people are moving away than are moving in. The Chicago metro area in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin lost about 80,000 people through migration between 2014 and 2015, which is consistent with a long-standing pattern of negative net domestic migration for the metro area.

International migration refers to people moving into and out of the United States, and consists of a diverse group of people such as foreign-born immigrants from many countries around the world, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and U.S. citizens working abroad. Some areas, like the Miami metro area in Florida, grow (in part) due to net international migration. Miami gained about 70,000 net international migrants between 2014 and 2015, making net international migration a major factor in Miami’s population growth.

The Big Picture

Analyzing the components of change is an enlightening way to understand how the U.S. population is shifting over time. Looking at counties across the country, we can identify clusters of counties that grow mainly due to migration and others that grow due to natural increase. Clusters seen in areas like Florida and Texas, which grew primarily due to net migration gain between 2014 and 2015, are visible in Map 1. Other clusters shown in Map 1, such as those in California, Utah, and along the east coast from Virginia up to New York, grew over the same span of time in large part due to natural increase.

Map 1

Counties with shrinking populations are also clustered geographically. For many of these shrinking counties, net migration is the primary cause of population loss. How these counties can cluster together is shown in Map 2, where several areas along the Mississippi River (Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) had net migration loss between 2014 and 2015. States like Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, and New York also had several counties that lost population due to net migration loss. Areas that declined mainly due to natural decrease are similarly clustered, as seen along the Virginia/North Carolina border and in northern Michigan.

Pop est 2

Natural change and net migration both contribute to population change, sometimes with unexpected results. Frequently, natural change and net migration push a population in opposite directions, making it more difficult to determine whether a population is growing or shrinking. Los Angeles County, California—the largest county in the United States—experienced both natural increase and net migration loss between 2014 and 2015. As noted earlier, natural increase contributes to population growth, while net migration loss can cause a population to shrink. This can beg the question, how might a population change when subjected to seemingly contradictory components? The answer is that it depends. In the case of Los Angeles, the growth due to natural increase was much larger than the loss due to net migration, and the county saw a sizeable population increase. All across the United States, stories like the one playing out in Los Angeles exist, with each area having a unique combination of natural change and net migration that determines whether they grow or shrink from year to year. By looking at these basic components of population change, demographers gain insight into the complexities of how populations change over time.

“Summing” It All Up

Overall, population grows or shrinks through two very basic components – natural change (births minus deaths) and migration (domestic plus international). As illustrated in this blog, the balance between these components is unique in each area, while following general patterns across states or regions. This balance gives areas their own unique story as they change over time. Through the production of annual population estimates, and the types of analysis provided here, demography continues to be an important, ongoing focus of study at the Census Bureau that contributes to our understanding of where we’ve been and where we’re headed in the future.


The Office of Management and Budget’s statistical area delineations for metro areas are those issued by that agency in February 2013. Metro areas contain at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, and consist of one or more whole counties or county equivalents. Some metro area titles are abbreviated in the text of the blog.

The Census Bureau develops annual population estimates by measuring population change since the most recent census. The Census Bureau uses births, deaths, administrative records and survey data to develop estimates of the U.S. population. For more details regarding the methodology, see

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Women-Owned Businesses on the Rise

Written by: Erika H. Becker-Medina, chief, Data User Outreach & Education Branch, Economy‑Wide Statistics Division

The number of women-owned firms rose 26.8 percent from 2007 to 2012, from 7.8 million to 9.9 million businesses. In contrast, the number of all firms increased 2.0 percent during the same period, from 27.1 million to 27.6 million.

Also on the rise, the increase in receipts for women-owned firms outpaced that of all firms during the period. Women-owned firms totaled $1.4 trillion in receipts in 2012, an increase of 18.7 percent from $1.2 trillion in 2007. Receipts for all firms grew 11.7 percent during the same period — from $30.0 trillion in 2007 to $33.5 trillion.

These statistics come from the Survey of Business Owners, which provides a broad socioeconomic picture of business owners across the nation and is part of the Census Bureau’s five‑year economic census.

Even though women business ownership is on the rise, male-owned businesses continued to make up the majority, with 53.7 percent of all firms (14.8 million businesses), while female-owned businesses comprised 35.8 percent of all firms (with 9.9 million businesses). Equally male-/female-owned businesses comprised 8.9 percent (with 2.5 million businesses) and 1.6 percent (with 0.4 million businesses) were publicly held/not classifiable by gender (or ethnicity, race and veteran status).

Overall, women owned over a third of all firms in 2012, but the proportion was greater among minorities and varied by group. (See figure below.) The 8.0 million minority-owned firms were almost equally distributed between male- and female-owned, with 3.8 million firms each (0.4 million minority-owned firms were equally male-/female-owned).

Gender Distribution of Business Owners Across Demographic Groups

Among minority groups (non-white races and Hispanics), only one group had more female-owned businesses than male-owned: Black/female-owned accounted for 58.9 percent (with 1.5 million businesses) of the nation’s 2.6 million black or African American-owned businesses. While over half (52.0 percent) of Asian-owned businesses were male-owned (996,606 out of 1,917,902), there were a couple of Asian subgroups (based on nationality) that were majority women-owned.  Women-owned businesses accounted for over half (51.1 percent) of both Vietnamese- and Filipino-owned businesses (with 158,958 out of 310,864 Vietnamese-owned businesses and 98,849 out of 193,336 Filipino-owned businesses).  In contrast, white/female-owned firms made up 33.2 percent (or 7.2 million firms) and white/male-owned firms made up 57.0 percent (or 12.3 million firms) of all white-owned firms in 2012.

The proportion of women-owned businesses varied by location. The District of Columbia ranked higher than any of the 50 states in 2012 in female-business ownership.  In DC, 42.7 percent (or 27,064 out of 63,408) businesses were women owned.  This was an increase of 40.3 percent from 19,291 women-owned businesses in 2007.  Bronx County, N.Y., had the highest proportion of women-owned businesses among the 50 most populous counties in 2012, with half of all firms (50.6 percent) owned by women (68,705 out of 135,782 businesses).  Also in 2012, Detroit ranked first among the 50 most populous cities for the proportion of women-owned businesses, with 62.4 percent (or 38,576 out of 61,868 businesses).

The proportion of women-owned businesses by kind of business also varied among economic sectors. Women-owned businesses accounted for over half of all firms in the following three sectors:  health care and social assistance (NAICS 62) with 62.5 percent (or 1.6 million out of 2.6 million firms), educational services (NAICS 61) with 54.2 percent (or 0.4 million out of 0.7 million firms), and other services (NAICS 81) with 51.8 percent (or 1.9 million out of 3.6 million firms).

This is just a small snapshot of data available from the Survey of Business Owners.  These same data are available at the more specific industry level (down to the 6-digit NAICS), are broken out by employer and nonemployer firms, and include additional variables such as size of firms by receipts and employment levels.  Drawing on a sample of 1.75 million employer and nonemployer businesses, the Survey of Business Owners publishes data on the number of firms, receipts, payroll and employment, as well as the gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status of the firm owners. It is the most authoritative source of economic data on businesses by the demographic characteristics of the owner.

The first results from the 2012 Survey of Business Owners were released last year. This blog is part of an analytical series that takes a deeper dive into the Survey of Business Owners data for different demographic groups. Future blogs will focus on race, ethnicity, veteran status, and other characteristics, such as age of business owner.

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Women are Leading the Rise of Black-Owned Businesses

By Erika H. Becker-Medina, chief, Data User Outreach & Education Branch, Economy-Wide Statistics Division

Black business ownership is on the rise.

The number of black or African American-owned firms grew 34.5 percent between 2007 and 2012 — from 1.9 million to 2.6 million in 2012. In contrast, the total number of firms in the United States increased  2.0 percent during the same period, from 27.1 million in 2007 to 27.6 million in 2012. However, the proportion of black or African American-owned businesses account for 9.4 percent of all firms, which is still below the 13.1 percent black or African American share of the U.S. adult population (according to the Census Bureau’s July 1, 2012, population estimates).

These business figures are from the Survey of Business Owners, which provides a broad socio-economic picture of business owners across the nation and is part of the Census Bureau’s economic census conducted every five years.  Drawing upon a sample of 1.75 million employer and nonemployer businesses, the Survey of Business Owners collects data on firms’ receipts, payroll and employment as well as the gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status of the firm owners. It is the most authoritative source of data on businesses by the demographic characteristics of the owner. The first results from the 2012 Survey of Business Owners were released last year. This blog kicks off an analytical series that takes a deeper dive into the Survey of Business Owners data for different demographic groups.

So, who contributed to the increase of the number of black or African American-owned businesses? Women! The number of black/female-owned firms climbed 66.9 percent, from 900,000 in 2007 to 1.5 million in 2012. Additionally, these 1.5 million black/female-owned businesses accounted for 58.9 percent of the nation’s 2.6 million black or African American-owned businesses. Nationally, women owned  just over a third (35.8 percent or 9.9 million) of all firms in 2012.

Gender Distribution of Business Owners for Black or African American-Owned Firms and All Firms

The sales or receipts from these businesses tell a different story. While the number of black or African American-owned firms represented 9.4 percent of all firms, the $150.2 billion in sales generated from these firms were less than half of a percent (0.4 percent) of the total sales for all firms ($33.5 trillion) in 2012. Included in the grand total are publicly held and other firms that are not classifiable by race (or gender, ethnicity and veteran status), and with $21.6 trillion in sales, these firms amounted to almost two-thirds (64.3 percent) of the total sales for all firms in 2012.  When looking solely at firms classifiable by gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status, sales from black or African American-owned businesses made up 1.3 percent of total sales ($12.0 trillion).

This disparity is also visible between genders. Even though black or African American-owned businesses were predominantly women-owned (58.9 percent), the reverse was true for revenue. Approximately two‑thirds (66.7 percent) of the $150.2 billion in sales generated by black or African American-owned firms were from male-owned businesses ($100.1 billion) in 2012.

In addition to gender distribution, economic industries are spread differently among demographic groups. The top three moneymaking sectors for those firms classifiable by gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status were wholesale trade (NAICS 42) with $2.8 trillion, retail trade (NAICS 44-45) with $2.1 trillion, and manufacturing (NAICS 31-33) with $1.3 trillion in sales for 2012. However, neither wholesale trade nor manufacturing ranked among the top three sectors for black or African American-owned firms. Instead, health care and social assistance (NAICS 62), retail trade, and professional, scientific and technical services (NAICS 54), with $24.2 billion, $17.2 billion and $15.7 billion in revenue, respectively, were the top sales generators for this group. (NAICS stands for North American Industry Classification System.)

This is just a sliver of the data available from the Survey of Business Owners. Geographic detail, down to the economic place (a community with at least 2,500 people), is also available, as is the size of firms by employment levels and receipts. Come back to this space for additional blogs about these data!

Additional information on black or African American-owned firms:



Sectors with at least 20,000 African American/Black-Owned Businesses in the U.S.


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