Women Need One More Degree to Match Men’s Pay

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In 1975, a woman earned about 57 cents for every dollar a man earned. That gap has now closed to 81 cents for every dollar a man earns. And even with equal education and working in the same field, women still trail men by eight cents.

The gap has been narrowing primarily as a result of women getting more education. According to a new report from researchers at Georgetown University’s Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, about 3 million more women are currently enrolled in post-secondary education programs.

Women receive more post-secondary degrees of all kinds than do men: associate degrees (61% awarded to women); bachelor’s degrees (57%); master’s degrees (60%); and doctorates (52%).

Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the report titled “Women Can’t Win: Despite Making Educational Gains and Pursuing High-Wage Majors, Women Still Earn Less than Men,” commented:

Women’s earnings still lag their exceptional educational progress. At the heart of the gender wage gap is discrimination in pay for the same sets of qualifications and experience.

Co-author Nicole Smith added:

The standard apology for the wage gap has been that women have less tenure in their jobs due to child care responsibilities. However, close to 48 percent of women of childbearing age do not have children, and this does not seem to affect their earnings potential in a positive way.

According to the report, when women do choose a high-paying major field in, say, science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), they concentrate in lower paid areas like biological and life sciences (54% women) rather than engineering (17% women). Nearly two-thirds of women majoring in business are human resources majors while just a third are finance majors.

Even in high-paying occupations, women are generally under-represented: 27% of CEOs, 44% of lawyers and 43% of physicians and surgeons are women. In comparison, 59% of market research analysts and marketing specialists, 85% of paralegals and legal assistants, and 89% of registered nurses are women.

The report notes six rules that seem to apply to women unless and until there are major social and legal changes:

  • Rule 1
    Get one more degree in order to have the same earnings as a man.
  • Rule 2
    Pick majors that pay well, as major choice largely determines earnings.
  • Rule 3
    If you major in liberal arts, get a graduate degree to attain middle class earnings.
  • Rule 4
    Negotiate your first paycheck well, as it will impact your lifetime earnings. The gender wage gap increases with age, peaking by their early 50s.
  • Rule 5
    Be careful with postsecondary vocational certificates because they have limited labor market value for women.
  • Rule 6
    If you don’t pursue a BA, consider getting an industry-based certification.

Visit the Georgetown Center website for the full report.