A decade ago, two economists — Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger — published a research paper arguing that elite colleges did not seem to give most graduates an earnings boost. As you might expect, the paper received a ton of attention. Ms. Dale and Mr. Krueger have just finished a new version of the study — with vastly more and better data, covering people into their 40s and 50s, as well as looking at a set of more recent college graduates — and the new version comes to the same conclusion.
Indeed, check out the Dale & Krueger abstract:
When we adjust for unobserved student ability by controlling for the average SAT score of the colleges that students applied to, our estimates of the return to college selectivity fall substantially and are generally indistinguishable from zero. There were notable exceptions for certain subgroups, [namley] for black and Hispanic students and for students who come from less-educated families.
So — college prestige doesn’t matter much. Right? Not so fast my friend…
The devil is in the details. Or in this case, the regression tables. And the real story is that college prestige matters quite a bit for men, but not women. Robin Hanson is on the case (the study itself is in italics):
To find the truth, you have to study Table 4 carefully, and note footnote 13:
For both men and women, the coefficient was zero (and sometimes even negative) [in] the self-revelation model.13 …
[footnote:] 13 This lower return to college selectivity for women is consistent with other literature. Results from Hoekstra (2009), Black and Smith (2004) and Long (2008) all suggest that the effect of college selectivity on earnings is lower for women than for men.
Table 4 shows that attending a college with higher SAT scores clearly lowered the wages of women 17-26 years after starting college (in 1976) — a school with a 100-point higher average SAT score reduced earnings by about 6-7%! The two estimates there are significant at ~0.01% level! (The other three, for other periods after starting college, are significant at the 5% level.)
One obvious explanation is that women at more elite colleges married richer classmate men, and so felt less need to earn money themselves. Why don’t the study’s authors want us to hear about that?