Are American Women Overeducated? Maybe Matt Gaetz Is Onto Something.
In a recent Tweet, Matt Gaetz referred to millennial women as "over-educated and under-loved." The congressman may have unwittingly thumbed his way into an interesting point.
Earlier this year, Politico leaked a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. Crowds took to the streets to protest. In response, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz fired off this tweet:
How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) May 4, 2022
("How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?")
In spite of his best (worst?) intentions, Gaetz managed to raise an important question: Their love lives and cats aside, could America's millennial women be too educated?
When It Comes to Degrees, Women Are in the Lead
Here are the facts on the ground regarding the education of American women:
A 2020 report by the Council of Graduate Schools found that for the 12th year in a row, women had earned the majority of doctoral degrees (53.1%).
According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, millennial women aged 25-34 are far more likely than millennial men to hold a bachelor's degree or higher (36.3% compared to 28.3%).
Research has long shown a positive correlation between education and forms of civic engagement like protesting, organizing, and especially voting. Civic engagement seems like a good thing. So what is it about all these educated women that makes Matt Gaetz so fussy?
It could have something to do with recent Pew Research Center findings that degreed millennial women (especially the single ones, according to NPR) tend to vote for Democrats. Too many educated women could spell bad news for the Republican representative (and these women can spell — like, really well, thanks to all that schooling).
But When It Comes to Leadership, Women Are Degrees Behind
So far, however, the gender trends in education haven't entirely translated to the workplace. Here are some less-than-great facts:
According to the 2018 Permanent Detour report, women are more likely than men to be overqualified for their first jobs: nearly half of all female graduates were underemployed that year, compared with 37% of male graduates.
A 2020 analysis in the Academy of Management Journal found that hiring managers are much more willing to hire a woman for a role she is overqualified for. In fact, researchers noted, a woman may have to be overqualified to win the job over a less-qualified man.
In light of the data, it seems Matt Gaetz isn't entirely wrong. Given that they are more likely to be overqualified at work and less likely to be promoted to leadership, it's true that many American women are overeducated — for their jobs.
Not Overeducated. Underutilized.
It would be more accurate to say that American women are underutilized. Additionally, society's failure to capitalize on the education and skills of half the population is a waste of valuable resources.
Underutilizing Women is Bad For Companies
In 2021, McKinsey & Company found that, compared with men, women in leadership positions were:
- 61% more likely to address employee well-being
- 29% more likely to help employees navigate personal and professional challenges
- 42% more likely to ensure manageable workloads for employees
- 21% more likely to prevent or address burnout
- Twice as likely to invest time into DEI efforts
In their 2017 report on gender diversity, McKinsey & Company also noted that empowering women in the workplace will soon become a sink-or-swim business decision:
"In a world where qualified talent is becoming scarce, the premium will go to the companies that have been able to recruit, develop, and retain the best employees. Tapping the reservoir of underutilized skills among women will become a key priority in the talent war."
Underutilizing Women Is Bad for Profits
- McKinsey & Company found a difference in return on equity of 47% between companies with the most women on their executive committees and those with none.
- The 2021 Women CEOs In America report notes that companies run by women "had a 25% annualized return over 8 years, compared to 11% for the broader worldwide index of firms."
- During the pandemic, companies with women in leadership were more financially resilient. A 2021 report on board diversity and performance found that 54% of companies where women held at least 30% of board seats had positive year-over-year revenue growth, compared to 45% of companies where women held less than 20% of the seats.
Underutilizing Women Is Bad for the Economy
- According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "Closing the gender gap in the workforce could add a staggering $28 trillion to the global GDP." In the US alone, it would add around $4.3 trillion.
- According to the U.S. Department of State, empowering women creates financial stability and spurs economic growth.
So, women: if a random Matt Gaetz tweet just opened your eyes to the possibility that you are underutilized in your current job, here are some things you can do about it:
Whatever comes next for you, one thing is clear: The world really needs your education, talent, and leadership. Keep up the good work.
Frequently Asked Questions About Women and Education
Yes, if you think it would help your career, enrich your life, or annoy your elected representatives. Don't worry: Research shows that woman-brains do just as well in higher education as any other kind of brain.
Here are a few more good reasons to consider going back to school:
- According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of women who completed a university degree said it was instrumental in helping them grow personally and intellectually in 2021.
- During the pandemic, women with degrees were nearly twice as likely to stay in the workforce than those without, according to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin.
- The job outlook and career potential for many careers that require degrees — like STEM, business, and medicine — are super strong right now. It's a great time to be overeducated!
It's great you're thinking about this now. There are a few things you can do as a new graduate to avoid the underemployment trap.
- Narrow your job search. It can be tempting to accept the first job offer you get, especially if you're pressed for cash. But slow down and be strategic: Prioritize applying for roles that will put you on a good career trajectory.
- Don't be afraid to change jobs if you get stuck in a dead-end position.
- Embrace continuing your education and upskilling throughout your career.