Quadlin, N., VanHeuvelen, T., & Ahearn, C. E. (2023). Higher education and high-wage gender inequality. Social Science Research, 112, 102873.

Over the past 60 years, we have witnessed a relocation of gender wageinequality. Whereas the largest wage gaps were once concentrated amonglower-paid, lower-educated workers, today these wage gaps sit among thehighest-paid, highly-educated workers. Given this reordering of gender wageinequality and the centrality of college graduates to total inequalitytrends, in this article, we assess the contribution of higher educationmechanisms to top-end gender inequality. Specifically, we use Census and ACSdata along with unique decomposition models to assess the extent to which twomechanisms rooted in higher education—bachelor’s-level fields of study andthe attainment of advanced degrees—can account for the gender wage gap acrossthe wage distribution. Results from these decomposition models show thatwhile these explanatory mechanisms fare well among bottom and middle wages,their explanatory power breaks down among the highest-paid college workers.We conclude that women’s attainment of “different” education (via fields ofstudy) or “more” education (via advanced degrees) would do little to closethe gender wage gaps that are contributing most to contemporary wageinequality trends. We suggest some directions for future research, and wealso take seriously the role of discriminatory pay-setting at the top of thewage distribution.