Study shows earnings increase for postgraduate study for women

An IFS report shows women’s earnings rise more as a result of doing postgraduate studies than men’s, but it depends on what subject they do.


The earnings return for women who do master’s and PhDs is higher than for men, according to a new study.

The research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies looks at earnings rates at age 35 for both men and women who do master’s, PhDs and PGCEs. It estimates estimate returns of 2% for women who do masters, compared with -2% for men and 8% for women and -9% for men for PhDs. 

It found that masters and PhD graduates earn more on average than those with only an undergraduate degree, while PGCE graduates earn less on average. In particular for men – who earn more generally –  this last gap is large, with PGCE graduates earning around £38,000 on average at age 35 compared with nearly £51,000 for those with only an undergraduate degree. However, while very few PGCE graduates have very high earnings, many fewer experience low earnings compared with those who left education after their undergraduate degree. That means median earnings of PGCE graduates are very similar to those of undergraduates for men and higher for women.

The study also looks at whether institution and subject area as well as prior study influence the returns. It finds that around a third of masters subjects bring statistically positive returns for women. Law, Economics and Management subjects give the highest returns of around 20% at age 35, but courses such as creative arts, English and philosophy lead to earnings more than 10% lower than those of similar individuals who did not pursue a postgraduate qualification.

Returns for men by masters subject are lower, with statistically significant negative returns at age 35 for most subjects. However, Law, Economics and Management subjects and engineering still yield strongly positive returns for men. 

The study comes amid more gender-related evidence of the impact of coronavirus on work. LinkedIn data reveals that women were less likely to be hired at the height of the coronavirus lockdown than men, with female recruitment falling to 41.5% in April before reaching 45.2% in July. This compares with 2019 figures, when women accounted for 45.6% of hires. A recent LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index report showed  almost 20% of parents have cut their normal working hours in order to provide childcare with men being twice as likely to share childcare with women. Almost a third (32%) of women provided childcare full-time, compared to 19% of men.

When asked about the biggest challenges relating to childcare during coronavirus, the most common answer was being unable to focus on work responsibilities, with 50% of women and 48% of men saying this was an issue. Women were more likely to say they lacked employer support for flexible or work-shifted hours: 7% said this, compared to 3% of men.  This comes as a poll commissioned by TalkTalk shows that the majority of British workers believe that they are more productive while doing their jobs from home. The survey saw almost 60% of respondents say they felt more productive at home, with almost a third of company directors and senior executives agreeing with them. The study also shows that half of those polled do not expect ever to return to the office for five days a week.

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