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American women who have earned an associate or bachelor's degree have received more immediate economic benefits than men, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by Laura Perna, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, a survey that had been previously conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

The NELS survey, which began in 1988, followed the educational and occupational progress of a sample of students until 2000.

Perna's study was designed to test the effects of higher education on economic and social benefits. In her report, Perna acknowledged the many difficulties that restrict attempts to quantitatively measure these benefits.

Therefore, only the students who were seniors in 1992 and who participated in the follow-up surveys in 1994 and 2000 were considered in Perna's study.

Perna found that women who had earned an associate or bachelor's degree by 2000 received incomes that were 8 and 24 percent higher, respectively, than those who completed high school only.

However, the men in the study did not receive a "statistically significant" wage benefit from earning either degree, according to Perna.

According to Dana Barron, executive director of the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women and Gender at Penn, other data from the census bureau exists which might produce different conclusions.

"Traditionally, men have gotten higher returns on investment in education than women, especially post-graduate," Barron wrote in an e-mail interview. "But in recent years, women have been getting more B.A.'s than men, and I believe, have higher high school graduation rates."

"The study cited here was narrow for a number of reasons," she added.

Perna herself acknowledged the limitations of her findings, as the NELS survey concluded in 2000, when participants were only 26 years old, only four years after the completion of a bachelor's degree.

The study, which was recently presented at the American Educational Research Association, is still a "work in progress," Perna said.

Some of the reaction that Perna has received has been negative. Critics, she said, focused too much on the lack of benefits for men.

Her findings focused on the fact that "payoff seemed to be greater" for women, Perna said, and "not that there is no benefit for men."

"For both women and men, the wage benefits [from obtaining a degree] will probably grow over time," Perna added.

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