Report Finds College Degrees Do Not Help to Eliminate Gender Gap in Pay
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a report showing that after just one year out of college, women working full time earn an average of only 82 percent of what their male counterparts earn, pushing back against the idea that a college degree is a clear course to parity for women in the workplace. The report also details the implications this early gender gap in pay will have on women's ability to repay their student loans after college.
Several technical details may contribute to this difference in pay. For instance, men reported working more hours than women on average, and were more likely to hold jobs in higher-paying occupational fields such as engineering and technology.
Additionally, women were more likely to major in areas associated with lower-paying jobs, such as social services and education, while men dominated majors that are more highly demanded in the workplace, such as those related to science, technology, and math.
But even when these differences were accounted for, the report still found that women, on average, earn only 93 percent of what men earn during their first year after college. And, although men are more likely to pursue jobs with higher starting salaries, the report finds that there is usually a pay gap between men and women working in the same fields.
This leaves one-third of the pay gap unexplained. "The pay gap will not disappear through educational achievements alone," explained Katie Broendel, Media and PR manager at AAUW, in reference to the dichotomy in pay between men and women with similar educational and occupational backgrounds.
Having less income than men means women are under more pressure to contribute an unsustainable percent of their income to paying off their share of the $1 trillion in student loan debt.
In 2009, 47 percent of women contributed more than eight percent of their income toward their student loan debt, compared to only 39 percent of men contributing a similar amount.
Not only must students worry about the rising costs of college, but women in particular must also face the fact that a college degree may not help to defeat the gender gap in the workplace, and the fact that gender may ultimately affect one’s ability to pay off student loans.
The fact that over 19 percent of college graduates report that they are underemployed exacerbates the situation.
Considering the cumulative effect of underemployment, student loan payments, and the gender gap and it becomes clear how great the challenges are that women still face in the workplace and economy. And given the entrenchment of gender-based discrimination in almost all sectors of society, it is extremely difficult for women to fight the pay gap on an individual level.
There has been progress over the last few years with the signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which facilitates the filing of equal pay lawsuits. If this progress is to be sustained, our leaders in government must work hard not only to fight discrimination by ensuring legal recourse for those impacted, but also to redress gender discrimination at the root.
One way the United States could demonstrate its commitment to eliminating gender-based discrimination would be to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which stipulates that signatories must take steps to criminalize instances of gender discrimination in the workplace.
But for those who can't wait for the law of the land to keep up with the socioeconomic needs of the country, the AAUW recommends employers conduct semi-frequent “pay equity studies” in order to assess any possible sources of pay discrimination affecting their female workers.
The authors of the report refer to a Minnesota law requiring that public-sector employers conduct such studies every few years, stating that this is an optimal example of a successful initiative to reduce gender-based pay discrimination.
However, current trends suggest that most women may have to wait much longer for the kind of legislation that will make a difference for female workers saddled with student loan debt.
College students already about facing a tough job market and paying off student loans; gender should be the last thing they have to think about.
Amanda Fox-Rouch is a reporter for Campus Progress.