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How Much Is An Education Worth?

Income data in the following tables is from the Census Bureau's annual publication Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. Specifically, the data is from Personal Income Table 03, part 136 (male) and Personal Income Table 03, part 262 (female). I calculated the 2 right-hand columns based on the Census Bureau's data displayed in the median income column. All year-round, full time workers 25 years old and older were included.  For access to the Census Bureau's historical and most recent online income data, visit their web page at

Announcements for previous years' data are available via the following links:

Highest Education Attained

% of workers

Median Annual Income

Difference from previous step

Cumulative difference from 1st step

less than 9th grade 2.98% $23,945



Grades 9-12, no diploma

5.33% 28,023 $4,078 $4,078

High School graduate

29.09% 39,478 11,455 15,533

Some college, no degree

16.42% 47,097 7,619 23,152

Associate degree (AA)

9.21% 50,303 3,206 26,358
Bachelor's degree (BA) 23.43% 62,444 12,141 38,499

Master's degree (MA)

8.72% 79,342 16,898 55,397

Doctorate (Ph.D.)

2.31% 100,740 21,398 76,795

Professional degree (Dr., lawyer, dentist, etc.)

2.52% 123,243 22,503 99,298

Year-round, Full Time U.S. Female Workers 25 and over, 2009
number of workers: 40,376,000
Highest Education Attained

% of workers

Median Annual Income

Difference from previous step

Cumulative difference from 1st step

less than 9th grade





Grades 9-12, no diploma


21,226 $2,746 $2,746

High School graduate

25.92% 29,150 7,924 10,670

Some college, no degree

17.74% 34,087 4,937 15,607

Associate degree (AA)


37,267 3,180 18,787
Bachelor's degree (BA)


46,832 9,565 28,352

Master's degree (MA)


61,068 14,236 42,588

Doctorate (Ph.D.)


76,581 15,513 58,101

Professional degree (Dr., lawyer, dentist, etc.)


83,905 7,324 65,945

Women's Earnings versus Men's
Year-round, Full Time Workers 25 and over, 2009
Highest Education Attained

On average, men earned this much more than women in 2009

Women's earnings as a % of men's *

less than 9th grade $5,465 77.18%

Grades 9-12, no diploma

6,797 75.74%

High School graduate

10,328 73.84%

Some college, no degree

13,010 72.38%

Associate degree (AA)

13,036 74.09%
Bachelor's degree (BA) 15,612 75.00%

Master's degree (MA)

18,274 76.97%

Doctorate (Ph.D.)

24,159 76.02%

Professional degree (Dr., lawyer, dentist, etc.)

39,338 68.08%

* If you drop the % sign, the contents of the third column in this table can be thought of as the amount women earned for every $100 earned by men.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual expenditures per household in the U.S. in 2009 was $49,067. That means that on average only men with an AA degree or higher (46.19% of full time employed men), or women with a Master's degree or higher (13.52% of full time employed women) could afford to head a household as a single earner. Most others would have to go into debt, or have one or more other household members work to make up the difference; or some combination of the two. This BLS report is available online at

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also tracks the employment (and unemployment) status of the labor force. Here is its data as of July 2011.

You may find the most current version of this table at

For additional information on education and earnings

Education Pays

This BLS chart shows the effects of educational attainment on income and unemployment.

Information Please Almanac's Salary Data

The table on this web page uses the Census Bureau's data to compare men's and women's income from 1990.

Christian Science Monitor story "Growing Cost of Skipping College" (published March 3, 1999)

This article reports on the struggle of those without college educations as they attempt to keep up in a technological economy. It is based in part on the newly published "The Forgotten Half Revisited".

A Special Report: Back to School (published April 22-26, 2002)

This series, published in 5 parts, explores the efforts of workers to gain additional education, in part to benefit from the additional pay that comes with it. Here are links to each of the articles. Access to them may require a free registration.

  1. Heading back for grad school

  2. Biggest bang for the buck

  3. More women invest in grad school

  4. Online Graduate Degrees

  5. Financing A Graduate School Education

For additional information on "Wage Gaps"

The Wage Gap fact sheet from the National Committee on Pay Equity

The perceived meaning of a high school diploma

Public Agenda polled teachers, students, parents, employers and college professors asking whether they thought a high school diploma meant the recipient had "at least learned the basics". I found the results fascinating.  Sharing them with your students could lead to a very interesting discussion.

On June 21, 2006, Talk of the Nation broadcast a segment on the employability of High School grads (those who got a high school diploma, but pursued no further formal schooling). It should provide enlightening listening for those who believe that a high school diploma on its own is the key to success in the world of work.

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copyright 1998-2011 All Rights Reserved.
original web posting: Friday, December 11, 1998
last modified: Tuesday, August 09, 2011