Black Women are not the most educated group in the United States

Several news media have published in the past weeks that Black Women are the most educated group in the United States or that they are the most educated according to race and gender. I decided to look into the statistics, ran some numbers, and found out that this is not the case. Black Women don’t perform as well as Caucasian and Asian Men and Women.

Here are examples of articles that wrongly claim that Black Women are the most educated group:

These media outlets have misrepresented the statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics and have misunderstood the report’s finding that

“From 1999–2000 to 2009–10, the percentage of degrees earned by females remained between approximately 60 and 62 percent for associate’s degrees and between 57 and 58 percent for bachelor’s degrees. In contrast, the percentages of both master’s and doctor’s degrees earned by females increased from 1999–2000 to 2009–10. Within each racial/ethnic group, women earned the majority of degrees at all levels in 2009–10. For example, among U.S. residents, Black females earned 68 percent of associate’s degrees, 66 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s degrees, and 65 percent of all doctor’s degrees awarded to Black students.”

From this, they conclude that Black Women are therefore necessarily the most educated group. What it shows however, is not that Black Women are the most educated, but that they have the highest proportion of graduates in comparison to their male counterparts by race. See here the data from the NCES:

Degrees conferred to Black Women
Table 1: Number of degrees conferred to females.

The data shows the following:

  • of the total Black population with an Associate Degree, 68% are female and 32% are male;
  • of the total Black population with a Bachelor’s Degree, 66% are female and 34% are male;
  • of the total Black population with a Master’s Degree, 71% are female and 29% are male;
  • of the total Black population with a Doctor’s Degree, 65% are female and 35% are male.

These findings indicate that Black Women have been much more successful in their educational endeavors in comparison to Black Men, but tell us nothing about the educational performances of Black Women compared to those of other or similar sexes of other races.

What is striking about the statistics of the NCES is that women far outperform men for all races. This graph is a clear depiction of that finding:

Degrees conferred to females
Table 2: Degrees conferred to females.

We can therefore conclude that women are more successful in obtaining degrees in Higher Education than men, but the gender gap is nowhere as wide for other races than for Blacks.

In order to have more insights in how well educated Black Women are compared to other groups, I have looked at statistics from the NCES on the educational level of people that are 25-29 years old:

Bachelor's degrees or higher for people ages 25-29 by race
Table 3: Bachelor’s degree or higher conferred by race.

According to the NCES, 60.1% of Asians aged 25-29 have at least a Bachelor’s Degree. Hispanics are the lowest performing group with 15.7%. Blacks have 20.5% and Whites 40.4%. Since the obtainment of Bachelor’s Degrees decreases the obtainment of Associate Degrees, it is more meaningful to look at the percentages of Bachelor’s Degrees or higher than to the percentages of conferred Associate Degrees. This graph however, has not specified the proportion of degree holders by gender. To approximate the degree holding male-female proportion, I have looked at table 1.

I have not found statistics that indicate the proportion of exclusively Asian degree holders by sex in Higher Education so I will make the assumption that the percentage of conferrals to Asian Women among the Asian population is approximately the same as that for Asian/Pacific Islander Women at around 55%. Hence, among the Asian group of which 60.1% aged 25-29 hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 55% are female: 33% of the total Asian population is female and holds a Bachelor’s degree or higher. 20.5% of Blacks aged 25-29 hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher of which around 68% is female. This means that around 14% of the total Black population is female and holds a Bachelor’s degree or higher. We can thus conclude that Asian Women perform much better educationally than Black Women with a ratio of almost 2:5.

How do Black Women perform in comparison to White Women? If we say that around 58% – this may not be entirely accurate, but from the NCES statistics it is reasonable to assume this number – of Bachelor’s Degrees and higher conferred to Whites are conferred to Women, we can assert that approximately 23% aged 25-29 of the total white population that have obtained these degrees are Women. According to my calculation, White Women thus perform far better than Black Women as well.

What if you would compare Black Women with Asian Men? According to my calculation, around 27% of all Bachelor’s Degrees and higher that have been conferred to the Asian population were conferred to Asian Men. Asian Men hence outperform Black Women with an approximate ratio of 1:2.

If you would compare Black Women with White Men, we can find that around 17.4% of the white population aged 25-29 that have obtained a Bachelor’s Degrees or higher are Men. This again is higher than the 14% of Black Women.

You can find a clear overview of my findings in the following table:

Group by gender and race Percentage holding Bachelor’s or higher degree w.r.t. their race
Black Men 7%
Black Women 14%
White Men 17%
White Women 23%
Asian Men 27%
Asian Women 33%

Black Women are by far not the most educated group within the United States. According to my calculations Black Women proportionally hold fewer Bachelor’s Degrees or higher compared to White Men, White Women, Asian Men, and Asian Women. An Asian Woman aged 25-29 is almost 2.5 times more likely to hold a Bachelor’s Degree or higher than a Black Woman aged 25-29. An Asian Man is almost 2 times more likely to hold a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. White Women more than 1.5 times more likely. I have not included Hispanics into my calculations, but I can see in one glance that Black Women do perform better than female and male Hispanics. Comparing Black Men with Asian Women, I find it shocking that an Asian Woman is almost 5 times more likely to hold a Bachelor’s Degree or higher than a Black Man.

I find it a shame that many news media have misinterpreted the data from the NCES and have spread the untruth that Black Women are the most educated group in the United States. Lastly, I would like to add that in order to gain more insights in how much better educated a group is we should also look into the type and quality of the courses and universities where these degrees were conferred. This is something I have not looked into.

Black Women Are Now The Most Educated Group In The U.S.
National Center for Education Statistics
Report: Black Women Have Become The Most Educated Group In The U.S.
Study: Black Women Most Educated in U.S.