Higher education leads to higher pay for Wisconsinites, report shows

Wisconsin residents with a bachelor’s degree tend to earn substantially more money over the course of their career than those with only a high school degree, according to a recent UW-Madison report. 

But the gender wage gap persists.

The Division of Extension report was authored by Prof. Steven Deller, an economist with the university’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. 

He found the average earnings for a working person with just a high school degree is $40,104, compared to $45,729 for those with “some college” or two-year associate degree. But that amount rises to $61,428 for those with a bachelor’s degree. 

Based on a 40-year career, lifetime earnings range from $1.6 million for high school graduates and $1.73 million for those with associate degrees to $2.5 million for bachelor’s degree holders, based on his analysis. 

“When examining the Wisconsin-wide average across different levels of educational attainment, there is a clear upward movement as education increases,” Deller wrote. 

Still, the report also highlights exceptions such as higher paying jobs in the trades. As one example, a plumber in the state had median earnings of $71,690 in 2022. That profession typically requires a high school diploma and a training apprenticeship. By comparison, early childhood education administrators had median earnings of $46,910, despite requiring a bachelor’s degree. 

Deller also found pay differs widely by gender in Wisconsin, averaging $56,462 for men and $41,920 for women. He wrote that the wage gap is “persistent across educational attainment levels.” While earnings for women rise along with education level, this disparity remains. 

For those with just a high school diploma, men’s earnings are 33.7% higher on average. For those with a bachelor’s degree, men earn 28.8% more than women, according to the report. 

“This means that the decision to invest in education does have a gender dimension,” Deller wrote. “Whether this increase in average earnings from pursuing higher education justifies the associated costs is a decision unique to each person.” 

See the full report.

See more coverage of Deller’s work. 

–By Alex Moe