The aggressive push to get everyone into college has focused heavily on minorities. The theory is that if you can get minorities into college, they’ll be better off. And minority enrollment has certainly boomed. But a new study raises serious questions about that premise.
But the wealth premium has collapsed precipitously over the past 50 years. White graduates born in the ’30s were worth 247 percent more than their non-college-educated peers; white people born in the ’80s were worth just 42 percent more. Among black families, the wealth premium sat at more than 500 percent for those born in the ’30s and fell to zero—yes, zero—for those born in the ’70s and ’80s.
We are talking about wealth rather than income. But if you’ve got a mid six figures in debt for a postgrad degree, making 40% more than your non-college relatives may not be helping that much.
The significant thing is how focused this is on black people.
More from the St. Louis Fed study.
Among Black bachelor’s degree families, the wealth premium peaked at 509 percent in the 1930s cohort, fell to 177 percent for the 1960s cohort, and was statistically indistinguishable from zero for both the 1970s and the 1980s cohorts In other words, we cannot reject the null hypothesis that the average Black bachelor’s degree family with a head born between 1970 and 1989 had no more wealth than the average Black nongraduate family with a head born in the same decade
The numbers are even more of a downer for black postgrads.
Among Black postgraduate families, the expected wealth premium ranged from 509 percent for the 1940s cohort to levels slightly above but statistically indistinguishable from zero for cohorts born in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This suggests that, on average, postgraduate Black families with heads born in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s have not accumulated more wealth than Black nongraduate families with heads born in the same decades.
In sum, Whites are the only racial or ethnic group born in the 1980s for whom a bachelor’s degree provides a family with a reliable wealth advantage over comparable nongraduate families—albeit one that is much smaller than those enjoyed by earlier cohorts of college graduates. Even more surprisingly, the expected wealth premium among postgraduate families with a head born in the 1980s is indistinguishable from zero at standard confidence levels for all races and ethnicities.
Now again, this is wealth rather than income. But it suggests that ultimately, a college or postgrad degree is not that helpful.
Pushing minorities into college doesn’t necessarily address underlying wealth issues. And the college premium for white people continues to decline. That raises the prospect of the white college wealth premium following the trend among minorities and heading toward zero.