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The Equalizing Power of a College Degree for First-Generation College Students: Disparities Across Institutions, Majors, and Achievement Levels

Manzoni & Streib, 2018 / / July 2018

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Researchers have paid increasing attention to issues of access and retention among first-generation college students but have focused less on their post-college outcomes. We extend this literature by investigating if there is a generational wage gap, that is, a gap between first- and continuing-generation students’ wages. We also ask how the generational wage gap varies across institutions, majors, and achievement levels, and what accounts for it. Using data from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study, we show that 10 years after completing college there is a substantial generational wage gap. However, for women, the generational wage gap fades when controlling for individual characteristics such as race and motherhood status. For men, the generational wage gap does not disappear when controlling for individual characteristics, but does disappear when controlling for labor market characteristics. In addition, we find that the generational wage gap is more a product of how students are distributed into industries, jobs, and work locations than how they are distributed into educational institutions, majors, and achievement levels.