Yesterday, the WSJ published news that 2014 graduates are seeing better-than-expected salaries. But is this equally good news for women and men?
The wage gap (commonly referred to as the average woman earning 77 cents to the average man’s $1) is a controversial topic because its causes are multiple and the term invokes a presumption of bias when the evidence is complex. Both casual pundits and serious academics study whether it exists and its causes. I’ve written about this topic before, but as a recap, here’s a short list of potential, legitimate (aka non-bias based) reasons for a pay gap:
- Differences in the jobs that women and men pursue and hold (e.g. teachers versus lawyers)
- Differences in education
- Differences in job tenure (including taking time off)
- Differences in experience
- Differences in hours worked
If the above comprise reasons for a pay differential, it means the pay gap will worsen as people age (e.g. a female teacher will have relatively lower pay compared with a male attorney after both have 20 years of tenure). However, pay differences start much earlier in a young person’s career. The differences start with the first job graduates take so they probably aren’t due to education or job tenure.
The chart below was published last week by the White House, showing for every area of undergraduate study, women earn less than men 4 years after university graduation. The smallest pay gap is for those studying math and the sciences, followed by engineering. The worst areas are General Studies (whatever that is), Business, and Computer and Info Sciences. With the exception of Computer and Information Sciences, this suggests that girls who study the hard sciences and more technical areas fare best when it comes to pay parity.
Are things better or worse if we look at the gender gap just ONE year after college graduation? The American Association of Undergraduate Women (AAUW) did just that and published some fascinating data. They found the pay gap to be 82% just 1 year after graduation, of which 7% could not be explained by education, hours, area of study, job experience, tenure nor job type. By area of study, 1 year after graduation, they found women who studied the humanities, healthcare, education and the sciences being paid just as well as men. Those women who studied computer science, business, and engineering did the worst compared to men. This seems to conflict with some of the U.S. government data. Perhaps the discrepancy is due to the fact that educational labels are broad and vague (e.g. what exactly constitutes “the humanities”?) or because we are comparing post-1 year and post-4 year datasets and inequalities grow significantly after the first year of post-graduate work.
The AAUW tries to improve the situation by hosting workshops in American universities to educate young women about pay differentials, and to give advice about negotiating job offers and salaries. These workshops have a great name ($mart $tart) and seem like a great idea because these are lessons these women will need for years to come. The AAUW also advocates for pay transparency and hopefully Fairygodboss can be helpful, too. If you know a new or recent college graduate that might be interested in seeing what others around them make, please pass this information on!