College-educated women with similar degrees, jobs and hours worked may bring home thousands of dollars less than their male colleagues.
A year after graduating from college, women are paid only 82 percent of what their male counterparts earn, according to a report published by the American Association of University Women. Even when controlling for differences in college major, amount of hours worked and types of jobs held, women, based on 2009 data, still made on average $7,600 less than their male colleagues, particularly in sales occupations, education and business and management.
The pay gap suggests that, though gender equity in the workforce has improved, there remains much work to be done, said Catherine Hill, co-author of the report and the director of research at AAUW. The pay gap could have significant effects on Duke students preparing to enter the workforce.
“It reminds us that this is not just a question of people’s choices—you can’t choose to not experience the pay gap,” she said.
The report noted that the pay gap can be partly tied to differences in occupational choices between men and women after graduating.
The report, which measured how much men and women earn in their first year after graduation, marks a slight reduction in the gender pay gap since 2001, when women made 80 percent of what their male peers earned, according to a similar study from the AAUW in 2007.
Still, women working full time on average earned $35,296 in the first year while men earned $42,918.
“We have made a lot of gains, and that’s something people don’t talk enough about. But we have further to go,” she said.
The researchers were surprised that the pay gap begins the first year after graduation, especially since many people believe that society has outgrown such discrepancies, Hill said.
The pay difference is particularly revealing in a young demographic, where the graduates have the same four-year education qualifications, have not yet started families and are otherwise unencumbered by extra obligations.
Sophomore Jackie Dobbies, an intern at the Women’s Center, said both men and women have become complacent with the pay discrepancy.
According to the report, women in sales occupations are paid 77 percent of what their male counterparts are paid, 86 percent in business and management and 87 percent in other white-collar occupations.
The pay gap is particularly telling in pre-K-12 education. Although 79 percent of teachers are women, female teachers are paid on average $33,434 whereas their male colleagues earn $37,579—an 11 percent discrepancy.
Such a pay gap is difficult to explain, especially when most teachers work under contracts that are standardized, Hill said.
In North Carolina, for example, teacher salary is determined by a general pay scale that is gender-neutral, noted Alex Lemay, an eighth grade science teacher at the Durham School of the Arts. The discussion among North Carolina teachers, she added, focuses more on low pay across the board rather than gender inequities.
The lower wages reflect a larger pattern in which occupational fields dominated by women, like education and nursing, generally tend to have lower salaries, Hill said.
Lemay offered several factors that may contribute to gender-based pay differences despite the standardized pay scale. For example, teachers can supplement their annual salary by taking on extra positions, such as coaching a sports team or advising the yearbook committee.
There are generally more male teachers in high school than in elementary school, but this does not reflect gender discrimination, Lemay said.
“It is a gender bias simply by choice,” she said. “If you go to any teacher education colleges, women are signing up to teach in the lower elementary years where there is traditionally more nurturing.”
Donna Lisker, associate dean of undergraduate education and co-director of the Baldwin Scholars program, also pointed to differences in occupational choices in explaining the pay gap—that is, women are over-represented in “caring” professions that tend to pay less, such as nursing or early childhood education.
Lisker also noted in an email Sunday that in professions where employers determine salaries, men are more likely than women to negotiate their initial offer.
“Women are somewhat more reticent, more hesitant to negotiate than men,” Hill added. “Negotiation is something that if women don’t do it carefully, it can backfire.”
She added that women who negotiate their salaries could actually be penalized if their behavior is perceived to be too masculine.
But such explanations fail to address the root of the problem, Dobbies said. Attributing the gender pay gap to disproportionate negotiation sidesteps the larger issue of gender biases.
“It’s a Band-Aid to the real problem, which is gender discrimination in the workforce and society,” she said.
Moving forward, discrimination will pose a significant challenge to combatting the pay gap, Hill said, especially since many do not realize they have prejudices.
She added that eliminating the pay gap will require legal remedies, increased awareness on the part of individuals and federal action, like the Equal Pay Act, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this June.
“It takes a lot of education—to employers about pay equity, to women about negotiation and to society at large about not devaluing the caring professions,” Lisker said.