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Elite Female College Grads Opting Out of Workforce

graduation . / Credit: College Graduation Image via Shutterstock

So much for all that college tuition. New research reveals that women with degrees from America’s top schools are less likely than other women to choose a full-time career path.

Overall, that research found that just 60 percent of female graduates from elite schools, as rated by Barron's and Carnegie classifications, were found to be employed full-time. Sixty-eight percent of women from all other schools — those not considered “elite” — were employed full-time. 

“Even though elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages and have higher expected earnings, they are still opting out of full-time work at much higher rates than other graduates, especially if they have children,” said Joni Hersch, study author and  professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt University.

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One of the biggest factors influencing women’s career decisions is their children. Hersch found that female graduates of elite colleges who are married and do not have children are 20 percentage points more likely to be employed full-time than women who graduated from the same schools but also have children.

Hersch speculates that part of the reason more elite college grads opt out of the work force is because they can afford to.

"There is a combination of reasons, but an important reason is that women who are graduates of elite colleges are more likely to be married to men who are in jobs requiring more education, which have higher earnings, "Hersch said "Labor market activity is lower for women married to men in jobs requiring more education, and because a greater portion of the elite women are married to such men, part of the reason is the higher earnings of their husbands."

Hersch says that the decision of women to opt out of work is having a ripple effect on the representation of women in executive positions. 

This might explain at least some of the lower representation of women executives at elite workplaces, said Hersch. "Elite workplaces preferentially hire graduates of elite colleges, and there is evidence that more top-level women managers or corporate board members is associated with more women in the pipeline to advance through the hierarchy."

The research was based on data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, which considered information from more than 100,000 college graduates. 

Email David Mielach or follow him @D_M89. Follow us @bndarticlesFacebook or Google+.