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Does a PhD really pay off? Returns to higher education from a gender perspective
Stephanie Steinmetz, Emer Smyth

Last modified: 2017-05-22


Education is a core requirement for minimizing social risks and enhancing social mobility. A higher educational degree is closely related to higher income and a higher living standard. Tertiary graduates earn twice as much as people with low levels of education and their risk of unemployment is also hugely reduced. It is however surprising that most of the studies focusing on the labour market outcomes of tertiary educated treat the group as being quite homogeneous. Moreover, as women remain under-represented among doctoral degree holders, it is remarkable that gender differentiation in doctoral participation and related labour market outcomes has received relatively little attention in existing research.

Using pooled data from the European Labour Force Survey (2010-2015) this paper provides a comparative analysis regarding the current state of the gender gap in higher education for 20 EU member states by investigating whether taking a doctoral degree does pay off for women in comparison to men. It is the first attempt to explore in how far cross-national differences in gender-specific educational outcomes can be explained, not only by the individual, but also by the contextual characteristics of the countries studied, including educational, economic, political and cultural factors.