Image: Amanda Cockrell, 32, left, a nurse practitioner at Rush Lifetime Medical Associates examines Joseline Nunez, 26, in Chicago.
John Smierciak  /  AP
Amanda Cockrell, 32, left, a nurse practitioner at Rush Lifetime Medical Associates, examines Joseline Nunez, 26, in Chicago on March 22, 2010. Nurse practitioners, who have advanced degrees, say they should be called "Doctor" if they have a doctorate.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/20/2010 7:41:04 PM ET 2010-04-20T23:41:04

Women are now just as likely as men to have completed college and are virtually equal in earning advanced degrees.

So says the Census Bureau, highlighting an accelerating trend of educational gains for women that has helped shield them from recent job losses.

The new figures show that about 29 percent of all women in the U.S. have at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 30 percent of men.

Measured by raw numbers, women already surpass men in undergraduate degrees, by roughly 1.2 million.

Women also have drawn even with men in advanced degrees, making up roughly half of those with a master's, professional degree or doctorate.

The statistics, detailed in Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, also showed that among people in the 25-29 age group, 9 percent of women and 6 percent of men held advanced degrees.

This held true for white, black and Hispanic women. Among Asian men and women of this age group, there was no statistical difference, the Census Bureau said in a statement.

Degrees pay off
At current rates, women could surpass men in total advanced degrees this year, even though they lag in business, science and engineering.

"The data also demonstrate the extent to which having such a degree pays off: average earnings in 2008 totaled $83,144 for those with an advanced degree, compared with $58,613 for those with a bachelor’s degree only," the bureau said in its statement.

"People whose highest level of attainment was a high school diploma had average earnings of $31,283," it added.

The number of U.S. residents with bachelor’s degrees or more climbed 34 percent between 1999 and 2009, from 43.8 million to 58.6 million, the bureau said. More than half (53 percent) of Asians 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more, much higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites (33 percent), blacks (19 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent).

Among women 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or more, 65 percent were married with a spouse present, according to the statistics. The corresponding rate for men was 71 percent. For women and men with advanced degrees, the corresponding percentages were 66 percent and 76 percent.

Among young adults 25 to 29, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men possessed a bachelor’s degree or more in 2009, the statement said. This gap has grown considerably in the last decade: it was only 3 percentage points in 1999 (30 percent for women, 27 percent for men).

Overall, 87 percent of adults 25 and older had a high school diploma or more in 2009. The figures come from the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic supplement, which is conducted in February, March and April at about 100,000 addresses nationwide.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Women to lead in advanced degrees

  1. Closed captioning of: Women to lead in advanced degrees

    >>> likely as men to have a college degree and could surpass men when it comes to advanced degrees by the end of this year. not all education transferred into equal pay . women with full-time jobs earned 80% of what men earned last year. that's down from a high of 81% on the dollar back in '05. and did a young

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