Studies show gender wage gap begins at graduation

Just one year after college graduation, women who work full time earn 80 percent less than their male counterparts, according to a recent study from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (AAUWEF). Previous work experience, type of degree and taking time off to raise children are all factors that can influence salary.

Surprisingly, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that an employee’s attitude concerning gender roles may also have a significant impact on earnings: researchers at the University of Florida found that men who hold “traditional” (women at home, men working) gender-role biases tend to earn more than their egalitarian-minded peers.

The study revealed that men with traditional views annually earned on average $11,930 more for doing the same job as men with more egalitarian views. The opposite was true for women, although the discrepancy was less noteworthy. Women workers with egalitarian mind-sets earned $1,052 more each year than traditional women with similar jobs.

The greatest gap was between men and women who held traditional attitudes, with men making $14, 404 per year more. The effect held even when controlling for education, intelligence, occupation, family size and region of residence in the U.S.

Pay discrimination on the basis of race, gender or religion was outlawed in 1964 after passage of the Civil Rights Act. Yet studies released as recently as last year indicate that sex discrimination in the American workplace may still exist. Kelli Hunter, a 3rd-year Biology major and Women’s Resource Center employee, says it is perplexing to still see a pay gap between the genders 44 years later. Hunter believes it is due in part to discrepancies in the way average wages are calculated for men and women in the same field.

Researchers at the AAUWEF looked at more than 10,000 people who received bachelor’s degrees in 1999-2000 and found that just one year after graduation, women employed full time earn just 80 percent what their male counterparts do.

Even after controlling for factors such as occupation and parental status, college-educated women still earned about five percent less than college-educated men one year after graduation. Ten years after graduation, this gap widens to 12 percent.

Women in traditionally male-dominated fields, like engineering, are not exempt from the wage gap. Women engineers earn 95 percent of what male engineers do, just one year after graduation, and female math majors earn 76 percent of what their male peers earn.

The study offered women’s negotiating skills as one possible explanation for the wage gap, claiming that women expect less. Chris Morgan, a graduate student in Computer Science, is familiar with the male tendency to negotiate higher salaries.

When Morgan interviewed for his first job, the salary he was offered did not meet his expectations. “[The offer] didn’t reflect market value for someone with my soon-to-be-acquired degree. I used this info in the counter offer, and while I didn’t get all of what I asked for, I got $5000 more [than the original offer],” Morgan said.

Hunter feels that the only way to close the gender gap is for women to be proactive about their careers, beginning in college. “To be competitive in the job market, women need to have been competitive in school…involved and taking leadership roles in campus organizations,” Hunter said.

He recommends doing background research—at Monster.com or Salary.com—on the range of starting salaries for one’s profession before entering negotiations. “[I]f you don’t know this info before an interview, do not commit to anything during it,” Morgan said.

Hunter agrees that women should walk into the interview with a salary in mind. “[W]omen should be knowledgeable about what both genders are making in their field before accepting a job offer, even before interviewing.

“Many employers ask you what you think your income should be, and knowing the wages of others in this situation is beyond beneficial. Maintaining a serious professional attitude toward work and being the best at whatever career you hold is key,” Hunter said.

Not long ago, Americans were on the brink of securing legally protected equal rights, regardless of gender. In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)—a proposed addition to the Constitution meant to guarantee equal rights for men and women—was introduced in Congress.

The proposal failed to gain ratification before its seven-year deadline. Only 35 out of 38 required states ratified the ERA, and five of those rescinded their ratification before 1979. Georgia has never ratified the ERA: it has been defeated in votes by both the Georgia Senate and House.

The ERA has been reintroduced in Congress every term since 1982 without success. Richard Barke, associate professor in the School of Public Policy, believes that in the past, legislators have made both absurd and logical arguments for their opposition to the ERA.

Past opponents of the ERA have argued that the it would interfere with privacy rights, that women would be sent into combat in the event of a draft, and abortion and gay marriage rights would be upheld.

States’ rights supporters said the ERA gave the federal government too much control. The insurance industry had business interests at heart when they opposed a measure they believed would cost them money.

“There was a lot of demagoguery…in part because the ERA was being pushed really hard by feminists and at the time, feminism was seen as being much more radical and fringy than it is today. There was a lot of exaggeration going on but there were some legitimate reasons, too,” Barke said.

Today, 29 years after states failed to ratify the ERA, questions about fair pay between the sexes still persist. “Anybody who would argue that sex discrimination does not exist is blind. There’s no doubt of it…it’s not an even playing field, we all know that,” Barke said.