Non-College Occupations, Workplace Routinization, and the Gender Gap in College Enrollment
Women used to lag behind men in college enrollment but now exceed them. We argue that changes in non-college job prospects contributed to these trends. We first document that routine-biased technical change disproportionately displaced non-college occupations held by women. We next employ a shift-share instrument for the impact of routinization to show that declining non-college job prospects for women increased female enrollment. Results show that a one percentage point decline in the share of routine task intensive jobs leads to a 0.6 percentage point rise in female college enrollment, while the effect for male enrollment is directionally smaller and insignificant. We next embed this instrumental variation into a dynamic model that links education and occupation choices. The model finds that routinization decreased returns to non-college occupations for women, leading them to shift to cognitive work and increasing their college premium. In contrast, non-college occupations for men were less susceptible to routinization. Altogether, our model estimates that workplace routinization accounted for 63% of the growth in female enrollment and 23% of the change in male enrollment between 1980 to 2000.