Returns to higher education vary considerably by gender and field of study, the OECD concludes in the report ‘The State of Higher Education 2013’. Net private returns to higher education are typically higher for men than for women. Nevertheless, women are likely to benefit more from higher education than men, including women who work in sectors with relatively lower salaries. This is because, in general, wages for women without higher education are significantly lower than wages for men without higher education.
Women friendly labor market
On average across OECD countries and all education levels, only 65% of women are employed, compared with 80% of men. However, the gap between men’s and women’s employment rates is smallest among those with higher education degrees, where the difference is less than 10 percentage points on average.
Also large differences exist between fields of study. Degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics typically lead to jobs with salaries 60% to 90% higher than salaries in arts, education and other humanities fields. The stability in these jobs is also higher on average. “More women complete programs in the humanities, arts, education, health and welfare fields, while more men complete programs in mathematics, science and engineering. This further impacts differences among genders in terms of employment rates and earnings,” the OECD concludes.
The OECD concludes that higher education institutions can help promote gender equality across study fields by implementing career counselling and student guidance services. “Broader policy measures would also need to be considered to help increase women’s participation in the labor market, including providing childcare subsidies with employment; increasing the availability of affordable, flexible, high-quality childcare services, especially for single mothers; providing maternity and paternity leave; and offering flexible working hours.”