A Closer Look

College Education in US – Boost to career earnings much lower for individuals who grew up in lower-income families

A college education, it is hoped, will help the children of the poor and working class gain a larger share of the economic pie.

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But how much does college really pay off for lower-income Americans? Perhaps surprisingly, there has been little research on how family income background influences the career earnings boost from a college education. In new research, we reach a startling finding: the percentage boost to career earnings from a college education is much lower for individuals who grew up in lower-income families, compared to their peers who grew up
in higher-income families. It is not surprising that a low-income background handicaps future career earnings. But one would have hoped that going to college would help close the gap. It does not, at least overall, and for some major groups.

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