A new meme has cropped up lately: yeah, sure, maybe there’s a gender wage gap, but it’s really just because ladies make different choices. (See it appear on the left and the right.) The wage gap does, in fact, balloon over a woman’s career, particularly post-children. But don’t those women make less because they decided to leave work early to take the kids to soccer practice? Didn’t they decide to hop on the mommy track and take a less ambitious job so they could focus more energy on family?
Despite the inherent sexism behind these scenarios—why do women feel an intense pressure to mommy track that men avoid?—they imply that women who don’t have such worries shouldn’t experience the wage gap. Under this logic, women who have just graduated college and who don’t yet have a husband or children should be making the same “choices” as their male peers and earn as much as they do. This would also bolster the argument that women’s dominance in getting higher degrees foretells, if not the end of men, at least the beginning of the end of women being at the bottom of the economic ladder.
So some researchers at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) put that theory to the test. In a study released today, Christianne Corbett and Catherine Hill looked at data from the Department of Education, in which it interviewed about 15,000 people, to compare the earnings of men and women a year out of college. As the report puts it, this is a perfect group to study:
Analyzing the gender pay gap among college graduates at the beginning of their careers provides valuable insight. Most are young (23 years old, on average), are relatively inexperienced in the workplace, have never been married, and are not raising children. The broad similarities in the lives of men and women at this time set the stage for a solid comparison.
Yet, sadly, the gender wage gap didn’t disappear—but not for lack of trying on the researchers’ part. They looked at a variety of factors that might account for it. Where grads went to school? Nope, the gap “exists within nearly every category of institution and level of selectivity.” The grades they earned? Women actually earned slightly higher grades on average. Number of hours worked at the new job? While women reported lower hours overall, the gap reared its ugly head among men and women working the same number of hours.
Two areas have some bearing on earnings: choice of major and choice of occupation. Women may have stormed the university halls, but they’ve mostly left segregation by field of study untouched. That can hurt earnings. Graduates with degrees in female-dominated majors tend to make less than those with male-dominated majors. Yet among those who choose the same major, men and women don’t make the same money. Among business majors, for example, women earned just over $38,000, while men earned just over $45,000. The same is true for occupational segregation. Men and women tend to hold very different types of jobs, yet within those jobs women make less. Female teachers earned 89 percent of what their male peers did. Female managers earned 86 percent. Female salespeople earned 77 percent. And on.