Look out, white male oppressors: Black women are now the most educated group in the country!
At least, that’s the surprising narrative being touted on Salon, The Root and a host of other news sites over the past week. Almost out of nowhere, they say, black women have blown past whites and Asians to become the most educated demographic group in America.
But the narrative is false, a fiction created entirely from a mangling of U.S. census data and an inability to read simple charts.
“By both race and gender there is a higher percentage of black women (9.7 percent) enrolled in college than any other group including Asian women (8.7 percent), white women (7.1 percent) and white men (6.1 percent), according to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau,” Salon says in its write-up.
The Root, on the other hand, focuses on the fact that, in 2010, “black women earned 68 percent of all associate degrees awarded to black students, as well as 66 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s degrees and 65 percent of all doctorates awarded to black students.”
The claim that black women are now the nation’s most educated group is used by The Root and other publications to complain that black women haven’t achieved a superior economic status that reflects this apparently superior education.
“Unfortunately, while black women may be the most highly educated, a recent study found that black women make up just 8 percent of private sector jobs and less than 2 percent of leadership roles,” The Root says. This complaint even made it across the pond, being repeated in The Independent, a British newspaper.
But while black women have made enormous educational strides in the last few decades, Salon, The Root, and the rest are all pushing a completely bogus narrative. Black women aren’t the country’s most educated group, and it isn’t particularly close.
Defining what makes a group the “most educated” isn’t a precise science, since there are many traits that could be used to measure a group’s education level. One could look at high school and college graduation rates (Asian women are currently tops in both), or how many Ph.Ds or other terminal degrees a group earns.
None of these measures are used by the news outlets declaring black women the country’s most educated group. Instead, the assertion is based on two observations: that a high number of black women are currently enrolled in college, and that black women dramatically outperform black men academically.
Both of these statements are perfectly true, or at least don’t contradict census data. But neither of them make black women the country’s most educated group.
The percentage of a group that is currently enrolled in college doesn’t reflect which group is the most educated. A person who completed a Ph.D a decade ago isn’t currently enrolled in college, but is certainly more educated than a person who is enrolled as a freshman right now. Blacks also have a substantially lower median age than whites and Asians, which means a larger proportion of them are young people likely to be enrolled in college.
A high rate of college enrollment could even represent individuals taking longer to complete their degrees. Black and white college graduates go on to college at about the same rate, but whites are more than twice as likely to graduate, and are more likely to graduate on time when they do. If black women are taking longer on average to attain their degrees, it will also increase their enrollment rate.
Similarly, the fact that black women earn more than twice as many college degrees as black men doesn’t make them the country’s most educated group. Instead, it just reflects that black women are handily outpacing black men academically. They are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to attend college, and more likely to graduate if they do. The same trend of women beating men is seen for all races at all education levels, but the gap is simply much larger for blacks than it is for whites, Hispanics, or any other group.
Unfortunately, a large number of journalists appear to be terrible at comprehending statistics.
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