New research out of Cornell University suggests that whether high schools decide to focus on offering college preparation courses or vocational training could profoundly affect young women.
Lead author April Sutton found that while blue-collar training without a focus on college preparation may result in blue-collar jobs for men, women are instead punished when entering the workforce.
"This has been a real blind spot in the public discussion: the assumption that men and women would equally benefit from high school training for local blue-collar jobs," Sutton said.
Researchers discovered that a focus on vocational training in high school in blue-collar communities reduced the chances for both men and women that they would go on to enroll in a four-year college after graduation.
However, different outcomes were noted for men and women as they began to look for work. In communities with higher rates of blue-collar jobs, men were more likely to enroll in blue-collar-related vocational courses in high school, were found to have higher rates of blue-collar employment, and earned similar wages to men who had attended high school in areas with lower levels of blue-collar jobs.
Meanwhile, women who attended high school in blue-collar communities were not as likely to be employed at all, and were less likely to be employed in white-collar positions. They also typically earned less than their female peers from non-blue-collar communities.
In addition, gender gaps in employment and wages were found to be the largest between men and women who had attended high school in blue-collar communities.
In part, the differences were found to be the result of high schools in blue-collar communities offering a higher number of blue-collar vocational courses in comparison to advanced college preparatory courses. Previous research suggests that courses in college preparation result in higher rates of four-year college enrollment and completion.
"This curricular tradeoff did not penalize men in the labor market, at least in early adulthood, but it restricted women's opportunities to get good jobs," Sutton said.
Researchers suggest that the issue needs additional attention as both political parties begin to consider pushing blue-collar related vocational training. They add that careful attention needs to be considered for women, as the hourly gender wage gap for high school graduates between the ages of 25 and 28 was found to be 22%, with women making 78 cents for every dollar made by a man.
The study "raises questions about how high school training for these male-dominated, local jobs would impact gender inequality, and it emphasizes the importance of considering gender in debates about the best type of high school training to succeed in today's economy," Sutton said.
Data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, comprised of a national representation of high school sophomores, was used for the study. The group was followed through early adulthood with followup surveys occurring in 2004, 2006, and 2012. Differences in family backgrounds, achievement test scores, academic grades, school demographics, and other characteristics were all taken into account as education and labor market outcomes were compared for the study.