Professional certification and earnings of health care workers in low social closure occupations

Janette Dill, Jennifer Craft Morgan, Jane Van Heuvelen, Meredith Gingold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


There has been rapid growth in professional certifications in the health care sector, but little is known about the rewards to workers for attaining professional certifications, especially in low social closure occupations where the barriers to entry (e.g., higher education, degrees, licensure) are relatively limited. In this study, we focus on the attainment and rewards for professional certifications in four health care occupations – personal care aides, medical transcriptionists, medical assistants, and community health workers – where certification is generally not required by state or federal regulation but may be attractive to employers. Using the Current Population Survey (IPUMS CPS) from 2015 to 2020, we find that workers of color have significantly lower odds of attaining a certification, while women are 1.2 times more likely than men to an earn a certification. On average, workers who have earned a professional certification have weekly earnings that are 4.8% higher than workers who do not have a certification. Men experience the largest increase in weekly earnings (11.3%) when they have a professional certification as compared to those without, while women experience lower gains from professional certification (3.8%). Black and Hispanic workers experience modest rewards for certification (weekly earnings that are 1.2% and 5% higher, respectively) that are lower than the rewards gained by white workers (6% higher weekly earnings). Our findings suggest that professional certifications may have modest benefits for workers, but professional certifications often come with significant costs for individuals. Strategies for reducing inequality in the return to credentials and for improving job quality in the care sector are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115000
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support was provided by the National Institute on Aging (Grant No. P30AG066613 to Phyllis Moen). The funding source had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Certification
  • Direct care work
  • Health care workforce
  • Training
  • Unions


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