Education has long been considered a key institution in the reproduction of social inequality. In China, as more people are graduating from college with its expansion, the higher education institution plays an increasingly important role in determining social stratification and mobility. In my thesis, I look at how higher education affects earnings inequality by family backgrounds and gender, the two critical aspects of social stratification. I start in Chapter 1 by exploring the economic return of the super-elite colleges—Tsinghua University and Peking University—by family background. The conclusion is that only individuals from privileged family backgrounds benefit from having attended a prestigious college. Then I investigate how college affects the gender pay gap in China, in an era when women have outperformed men in gaining college access. Chapter 2 finds that, despite the rising of women in college attendance, men and women are becoming more segregated in terms of their majors. A large proportion of the gender pay gap among college graduates is explained by the concentration of women in less lucrative non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors. In Chapter 3, I look more closely at the social backgrounds of college students by gender and find that girls have better socioeconomic backgrounds than their male counterparts. The predicted gender pay gap for college graduates rises when family background disparities between the sexes are considered. The three essays collectively show that increasing access to college does not eliminate earnings inequality in China.
Keywords: Higher education, Earnings inequality, College quality, Super-elite college, Family background, Gender segregation of major, Gender pay gap, Regression discontinuity, Decomposition, Propensity score matching