How Macroeconomic Conditions, Educational Credentials, and Ascribed Characteristics Influence Economic Inequality

Awarded Scholars:
S. Michael Gaddis, Pennsylvania State University
Project Date:
Feb 2016
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Education is often seen as an equalizer. But not everyone goes to college and those who do so enter a tiered system of schools and exit into a labor market that values more than educational credentials. Individuals with a bachelor's degree earn nearly $22,000 more per year and are less than half as likely to be unemployed than individuals with just a high school diploma. However, racial inequality is prevalent for college graduates, as black men make approximately 75% of the wages of white men and black women make approximately 90% of the wages of white women. In fact, racial differences in earnings and unemployment are highest among bachelor's degree holders than others.

Although education scholars document the ways that institutions at the primary and secondary levels reinforce a stratified system, scholars have devoted less attention to differences among college graduates. Building on previously collected data from a field experiment, sociologist S. Michael Gaddis will collect new data to examine: (1) How has the value of educational credentials in the labor market changed as macroeconomic conditions improved in the post-2008 recession years? (2) Have the changing values of educational credentials, if any, affected the level of racial gaps in labor market outcomes among college graduates? (3) Has the interaction of these two processes (educational credentials and racial discrimination) on labor market outcomes changed as macroeconomic conditions changed? (4) Does reduced information about qualifications (omission of GPA) increase racial discrimination among graduates from the same institution?


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.