For the first time, American women have passed men in gaining advanced college degrees as well as bachelor's degrees, part of a trend that is helping redefine who goes off to work and who stays home with the children.
Census figures released Tuesday highlight the latest education milestone for women, who began to exceed men in college enrollment in the early 1980s. The findings come amid record shares of women in the workplace and a steady decline in stay-at-home mothers.
The educational gains for women are giving them greater access to a wider range of jobs, contributing to a shift of traditional gender roles at home and work. Based on one demographer's estimate, the number of stay-at-home dads who are the primary caregivers for their children reached nearly 2 million last year, or one in 15 fathers. The official census tally was 154,000, based on a narrower definition that excludes those working part-time or looking for jobs.
"The gaps we're seeing in bachelor's and advanced degrees mean that women will be better protected against the next recession," said Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint who is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
"Men now might be the ones more likely to be staying home, doing the more traditional child rearing," he said.
Among adults 25 and older, 10.6 million U.S. women have master's degrees or higher, compared to 10.5 million men. Women still trail men in professional subcategories such as business, science and engineering.
When it comes to finishing college, roughly 20.1 million women have bachelor's degrees, compared to nearly 18.7 million men -- a gap of more than 1.4 million that has remained steady in recent years. Women first passed men in bachelor's degrees in 1996.
By the admittedly outmoded measure of the census, the number of stay-at-home dads has remained largely flat in recent years, making up less than 1 percent of married-couple households.
Whatever the exact numbers, Census Bureau researchers have detailed a connection between women's educational attainment and declines in traditional stay-at-home parenting. For instance, they found that stay-at-home mothers today are more likely to be young, foreign-born Hispanics who lack college degrees than professional women who set aside careers for full-time family life after giving birth.
"We're not saying the census definition of a 'stay-at-home' parent is what reflects families today. We're simply tracking how many families fit that situation over time," said Rose Kreider, a family demographer at the Census Bureau.