Social and economic returns to college education in the United States

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Education correlates strongly with most important social and economic outcomes such as economic success, health, family stability, and social connections. Theories of stratification and selection created doubts about whether education actually caused good things to happen. Because schools and colleges select who continues and who does not, it was easy to imagine that education added little of substance. Evidence now tips the balance away from bias and selection and in favor of substance. Investments in education pay off for individuals in many ways. The size of the direct effect of education varies among individuals and demographic groups. Education affects individuals and groups who are less likely to pursue a college education more than traditional college students. A smaller literature on social returns to education indicates that communities, states, and nations also benefit from increased education of their populations; some estimates imply that the social returns exceed the private returns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-400
Number of pages22
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Credentialing
  • Inequality
  • Mobility
  • Opportunity
  • Selection
  • Stratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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