Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

CPE research shows substantial earnings gap for women in Kentucky

April 01, 2021

Female with two males
Photo credit: Shutterstock.

New research from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education shows that, even with advanced college degrees, women in Kentucky continue to earn significantly less than men over a lifetime.

CPE released the findings today as part of an ongoing series of research briefs on education and earnings in Kentucky. The analysis shows that women with an associate or bachelor's degree earn only 73 cents for every dollar earned by male counterparts with a matching credential. Women with a master's degree earn 77 cents on the male's dollar.

In fact, the income disparities for women in Kentucky exceed the national average at every level of education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women nationally made 82 cents on the dollar in 2019.

Chart of gender pay disparities

"Despite tremendous gains on college campuses, women are not reaping the same rewards in the workplace," said CPE President Aaron Thompson. "Hopefully this research will encourage more employers to reevaluate their pay structure and the role of women in leadership positions. Undervaluing the contributions of our female workforce harms us all."

Between men and women with only a high school education, the gap in median lifetime earnings totals about $500,000 in Kentucky. That grows to about $1.4 million for men and women with terminal degrees, which include doctoral and professional degrees like law and engineering.

Even women with higher levels of education than men still struggle to overcome the financial disparities, data shows. For instance, on a median basis, Kentucky women with a master's degree earn around $650,000 less than a male with a bachelor's degree. Women with an associate degree earn about $100,000 less than a man with only a high school diploma.

Chart from report

Overall, the research found that both women and men still benefit financially from higher levels of educational attainment. Women with only a high school diploma earn a median $1.2 million over a lifetime compared to $2.1 million for women with a bachelor's degree and $2.7 million for women with a terminal degree.

The data also shows that gender-based differences in median annual earnings fluctuate more among workers with advanced degrees. For instance, women ages 25-29 with terminal degrees earn $1.41 for every dollar earned by men with similar credentials.

"However, the advantage for women in this category is still relatively new and modest," said CPE researcher Matthew Vetter, who helped author the brief. "Men with terminal degrees still earn more than women in every other age group, so it's unclear if this subset of women will maintain higher earnings over their lifetime."

Today's research brief is the second in the three-part series. The first showed that higher levels of educational attainment allow workers to acquire significantly greater financial rewards over the course of a career. The next brief will focus on earnings disparities related to race and education.

The brief can be accessed on the Council's website at

Last Updated: 7/22/2021