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Certificates can help boost pay. More if you’re a man, of course.

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Laura ClawsonFor some high school graduates looking to get some more education and increase their income, or for people with college degrees looking to retrain into a new field, a certificate can be a good alternative to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. But like just about everything else, certificates pay off less for women than for men:

Men who earn certificates earn 27 percent more than high school educated men. Women with a certificate, by comparison, only receive an average 16 percent increase in earnings over women with a high school diploma.

Some of that difference is because men are more likely to get certificates in higher-paying fields, such as construction, while women are more likely to get certificates in lower-paying fields, such as cosmetology. But that doesn’t explain the entire gap:

A male with a certificate in computer and information service can earn about $72,000 per year—more than 72 percent of his peers with an associate’s degree and more than 54 percent of male bachelor’s degree holders.

Notice we said “male.” Thanks to gender inequity, just as a man with a bachelor’s degree can out-earn a woman with a master’s degree, women don’t benefit from certificates as much as the guys do. A woman working in that same field only earns about $57,000.

That’s just one of the ways that the value of getting a certificate is variable: fewer than half of certificate-holders work in a field related to their training, and those working in other fields see just a 1 percent increase in median pay relative to high school graduates. But those who do work in the field they’ve trained in earn only slightly less than the median worker with an associate’s degree. Impact varies by race, as well, with Latinos getting the biggest earnings boost from a certificate over a high school diploma, while African Americans benefit the least from certificates. White certificate holders get much less of a boost than Latinos—but because white high school graduates earn more than Latinos, white certificate holders don’t need a big increase to keep out-earning Latinos.

The picture on certificates is mixed: Some certificates in some fields can mean real pay increases for some people. The picture on gender inequity remains clear: In any level of education, in just about any field, women are left behind.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on June 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.


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