Is a college degree a better investment for men or women?

Tracy - posted on 01/06/2013 ( 3 moms have responded )

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I guess I'm not looking for knee-jerk pro-woman feminist answers but really thought out ones. There was a question of "DO YOU FEEL YOUR DEGREE WAS WASTED BY BECOMING A SAHM?" The challenges many of us face as moms trying to be in the workforce: time off or added daycare costs for colds, school breaks, etc...all the little things related to having children - women are the ones to mostly handle these situations even if they have a loving and involved partner. Or many of us become stay-at-home moms because of either family preferences or sometimes it's just simply financially beneficial to be home instead of working.

So, what I'm trying to ask is that all the familial responsibilities a woman faces can easily make her a less desirable employee over a man who has a wife to handle his family and therefore free him up to be a more dedicated employee (granted, traditional roles are shifting, but the majority of us still face traditional family roles). Is it a better investment for men to get a college degree to support a family than it is for a woman? I know there is often a lot to a degree that isn't financial, such as personal growth and social capital, but my question is mostly towards the financial investment because it's a substantial cost. Do we propagate a falsehood that, despite all the advances women have made, it's still not beneficial (financially) for a female to receive higher education? What about the case of single moms - are they able to actually provide better for themselves and children WITH a degree (presuming loan payback that many of us face) or without a degree? There is a lot of factors to take into account with this question and I know it's complicated.

(Much of my question comes from the fact that women make up the majority of student populations across the country yet they make up a proportionally smaller degree of the workforce - let alone higher paying jobs. Women are, by a vast majority, working in low wage jobs, part time jobs, or even leave the workforce altogether. Such a disparity between education and employment is the basis of my question)

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Jodi - posted on 01/09/2013

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" But in Australia, higher education is covered by the government in a way different than here, allowing more people to become educated without the struggle or headache and work."

And I gave my opinion from that perspective. It is no less valid than an opinion from someone living in the US system.

And yes, I do see the fact that this is even a question as sexist.

Elizabeth - posted on 01/09/2013

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In response to Jodi:

I was the one who started the thread that initially sparked OP's question. And I have to strongly disagree with Jodi that Tracy's question is "sexist" or "deplorable."

Perhaps what Jodi means to convey is that the situation itself is deplorable, which I would have to agree it is.

The mentality of an individual who suggests that women "belong" in the home is not actually necessarily all too far off someone with a business background suggesting that a mother "stay home when baby comes to offset childcare costs." (Yes, there is a difference between someone saying you NEED to be pregnant and barefoot and being logical about childcare costs, but I'm talking from a financial and logical perspective). Surely, one way of saying this sounds "sexist" and "unfair" because of how the idea is presented. The Bottom Line is that while one can change the wording of the concept, the truth is still that women who cannot pay off the thousands of dollars private loan companies want are going into debt or adding to family debt after the fact, should they not be able to find adequate employment.

Women are STILL being paid 20% less than male counterparts, regardless of doing the SAME job. Women are STILL expected and assumed to take time off for children and not be "totally available." Women are liabilities to employers instead of pure assets. Men will not have the same physical needs to requirements and can continue working straight through the birth of their child with no complications. For women, it's extremely stop-and-go.

It's not that an EDUCATION is a bad investment. But the university system in America (along with the lower levels of education) is in serious need of reform. We teach children from a young age that mistakes are unforgivable, that education translates directly into success, that every person should be held to the same standards and abilities, though we have proven time and time again that some people learn differently and aren't any less intelligent. We favor those students who are "going places" and, despite our best efforts, do not give those struggling as much attention or assistance due to lack of funding, etc. and blame them for their own failures. (Please note I am NOT suggesting we tell everyone they deserve a trophy or an A, but there has to be a different way to educate than encourage children to be against each other (dumb vs smart) or have a collective approach like China did which radically improved their education and workforce several years ago). Education is always valuable because it expands opportunities and the mind. But being bogged down by debt without the ability to recover that money due to society's expectations and treatment of women is the very definition of a "bad investment," though it isn't fair. We are all told we will repay our loans and go on to find jobs and have better lives while entrepreneurialism is not encouraged or taught. But the reality is still that women make less, employers STILL sexually discriminate and there is a 40% increase in the number of women discriminated against since 2011, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who I had to contact the other day for personally being sexually discriminated against.

A college experience is like the fast-track to personal growth. You pay for what you could have learned elsewhere, but in an organized structured environment. For this "advantage" where people are coming out of college STILL only being able to find employment in jobs meant for teenagers, they suddenly owe thousands of debt that quickly multiplies and is impossible to pay down. This makes childcare extremely difficult, if not impossible, credit non-existent, denial for employment because MANY companies are now relying on credit checks to give you a job, and employers who are not willing to give you a chance. If everyone has a degree, they suddenly aren't worth as much. Additionally, many on this thread have even said they "went back" or "had to do it over again," indicating that perhaps going straight into college, as opposed to working for a while or starting a family or figuring out ourselves first is a better idea to not waste money for higher education. Especially if the same amount of time has passed between graduating, having a family, etc and re-joining the workforce eventually.

So, to answer the original question, on paper if you write down all the factors and do the math, then yes, in my personal (and professional) opinion, the Bottom Line is that life isn't fair and men overall do get a better ROI (Return on Investment) on degrees because they are not only significantly more likely to gain adequate employment, but also the ability to pay off their loans that women simply can't. Think about all the women on this site who have stated their husband is working and paying for THEIR student loans. If women are unable to make enough money to pay their loans back by themselves and need the man's help, clearly there is something wrong. Either the woman is at home, temporarily, permanently or what have you and cannot make that money or she is working but under-employed and the result is still the same: her degree did not allow her greater financial stability than if she had not acquired said degree.

Sure, some women do make enough money. Some do find success. But graduating recently with the student loan bubble, it's different than in the past. Women are not full time mothers raising their own kids AND career women. Career women do rely heavily on childcare, especially if their spouse also has to work which is the norm in today's society. So is not raising your own children the best course of action to make your degree be a GOOD return on investment?

And Jodi, you seem to imply you are from Australia. Yes, more women are in the workforce in Australia. But in Australia, higher education is covered by the government in a way different than here, allowing more people to become educated without the struggle or headache and work. If the person doesn't make enough money after graduating (i.e. 50,000 a year), they don't have to pay back the loans until they do. In America, we are forced to either repay ridiculous amounts starting 6 months from graduation that can vary from what we were promised we would pay or live at home after university, etc. We are not independent and capable of complete self care after university and most cannot find employment at $50,000 a year for YEARS. Many American graduates are in debt forever and the country is floundering and can't recover from the student loan crisis. There is clearly a problem with how America has been handling this. Furthermore, countries like Australia give women maternity assistance and time off the first year baby is born. In America, we can't even breastfeed/pump in the workplace without complication. Forget about nursing in public, we hate that.

Financially speaking, OP, it's not FINANCIALLY beneficial for women to receive higher education and we should really separate "financially" from "beneficial." Of course it's beneficial to receive education, but not a DEGREE.

Oh, and to answer your question about single mothers: It really depends on your personal definitions. From an accounting perspective, yes, on paper, they are more likely to get "better" jobs, should they become available as opposed to ALWAYS remaining on public assistance because they have no choice. Singe women who are returning for education are treated differently by the government. In many states, single mothers can get free childcare, financial assistance and other help that others cannot, allowing certain benefits married women cannot ever hope for. NO, i'm not saying they "have it easier" I'm saying financially these are huge considerations and allow for options not everyone has. Some, who had kids before education, can even get free university education not restricted to community college or "lesser quality." So, depending on the situation (i.e. not EVERY situation), these women have free education, free childcare and assistance without the student loan payback.

Jodi - posted on 01/06/2013

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I wouldn't call myself a feminist, I would call myself a humanist, and this is actually a very sexist question. I don't think a degree is a lesser investment for either.

It has always angered my mother that her father (back in the 1960s) discouraged her as much as possible from getting her degree. All he said was it was a waste of money for a girl to go to university because she'd only waste it anyway by getting married and having babies. Your question reminds me of this mentality, and I think it is deplorable. While my mother never did actually use her degree in the traditional sense, and she DID marry and have 5 children, became a SAHM, and all that went with it, she NEVER felt her degree was a bad investment.

I am glad my parents didn't feel a degree was a bad investment for a girl (despite the fact I was self funded at university, they supported me 100%).

And to be honest, most women here go back to the workforce once their children are at school. I don't know what the statistics are in the US, but in Australia about 65% of women (ages 20-74) are engaged in the workforce (compared to 79% of men), so that is actually a pretty high statistic, certainly not indicative of a waste of an investment.

I know some people feel that their degrees are wasted because they become irrelevant, but have they ever actually explored the possibilities. A friend of mine originally trained as a nurse. Her qualifications lapsed, pretty much, while she stayed home and had 5 children. Suddenly, she found herself a single mum with those 5 kids and had to get work. With her nursing qualifications obsolete, she found that she was, in fact, qualified to become a Learning Support Assistant (teachers assistant). Without her previous qualification, she would have needed a further 3 years of study to do that.

Myself, I have a degree that was useless on its own, and last year I went back and did my teaching qualification. Without my initial degrees (I have 2), I would have had to go back to university for a full 4 years. Instead, I only had to do one, and am now in the classrooms.

There is no such thing as a wasted degree unless you CHOOSE not to use it.

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