Facing the Wage Gap as a Female College Grad

IWPR Research Intern Vanessa Harbin

by Vanessa Harbin

As someone who considers herself to be pretty plugged in to gender issues, I have often heard the statistic about the ratio of women’s and men’s earnings, and figured I knew most of the story. The past few months I have been going merrily along pursuing job leads in preparation for graduation from my master’s program next month, without even considering how I personally might be affected by the wage gap. Surely, as a young woman with a graduate degree, my salary will be right up there with my male peers, right? Since I haven’t seen much difference in the jobs being pursued by and offered to my female and male classmates, isn’t it a given that we’ll be getting paid equally?

Then I began helping with the research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) looking at trends in women’s earnings and labor force participation over the past few decades. First, I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t until 1984 that college-educated women earned as much as men with a high school diploma, and it took another seven years until they earned as much as men with some college education or an associate’s degree. Then, I saw the wage gap between men and women with at least a college degree—it’s the biggest gap between men and women at any level of education. And even though the gap for all workers in my age group (age 25 to 44) is the lowest in 30 years, it’s still almost 14 percent (according to IWPR’s micro data analysis of the Current Population Survey). Even when women get into highly-paid and fast growing sectors like science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) fields, they are paid 14 percent less than men—a much narrower gender gap than many other professions, but a gap nonetheless.

Yet, I know that I’m extremely lucky to be where I am. Women with low education and skill levels can not only expect to earn less than their male counterparts, but often struggle to make a livable salary. Men with poor literacy skills have substantially higher earnings than women with the same abilities. And even with higher literacy levels, women still face a wage gap.

Learning the statistics has shown me that the wage gap does indeed exist and impacts women’s earnings—even highly educated women.  It is important to be aware that the playing field might not be even and to inform policymakers about this persistent discrepancy in earnings. IWPR will be releasing an analysis of the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the wage gap with occupations.  Our research on pay equity will be discussed at an Equal Pay Day congressional briefing April 17 organized by the Fair Pay Coalition. If you can’t make the briefing, you can still stay informed on this issue by visiting our website.

Vanessa Harbin is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is currently completing her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University.

5 thoughts on “Facing the Wage Gap as a Female College Grad

  1. Vanessa, thank you so much for your semi-anecdotal report. It’s just what the doctor ordered for average working women: ALMOST ALL HAVE NO CLUE THAT THIS WAGE GAP IS THEIRS! As a legislative spearhead of the national re-ignitedEqual Rights Amendment movement, I make a habit of asking working women whether they know that their salaries average only 72% of a man’s wage for the same job…they are shocked and downcast, seemingly in acceptance! We ask the ones who are certain that their wages are equal, “have you ever asked”? They haven’t. If there are ranges of wages depending on rank where they work, they are unaware that women’s wages cluster at the BOTTOM OF THE RANGE.
    LADIES, WE ARE GETTING SCREWED. But we are like the frog experiment in Biology class, where one frog is plunged into boiling water and scrambles to get out. The other frog in cool water then brought to a boil, well that frog just sits there as the water gradually, slowly boils it!
    WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET WOMEN RILED UP ENOUGH TO TAKE ACTION?!
    The current Republican legislative War On Women (yes, Rs filed all those hundreds of bills!) would probably never have seen light of day IF WE HAD AN EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT, with women named in the Nation’s contract with its people (all the males, that is)!

    WE DESPERATELY NEED AN EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT IN THE US CONSTITUTION..RIGHT NOW! Not as some female lawyers assert, immediately nor directly would ERA effect change in pay scales except within the government maybe. ERA would give those laws and state constituional ERAs their MOJO so they are not ignored! Those same lady lawyers completely disregard the political-social-economic byproducts of the ERA, sadly; over time, ERA WOULD have a salutory effect over THOSE, TOO.

    ERA IS NOT A LOST CAUSE. IT IS THE KEYSTONE OF OUR SO-CALLED DEMOCRACY. IF we do not exercise at least our purported rights—WE WOMEN ESSENTIALLY DO NOT HAVE ANY!

    REALLY smart women clamber onboard our ERA movement (300 000, so far, while other organizations LOSE members!) as we move forward to collect ERA ratificatrion votes in just 3 additional states required (out of the 7 active ones now with ERA bills!) and beef up our 2 brand-new US CONGRESSIONAL ERA BILLS!

    ERA IS A “no brainer”, is win-win for US economy (watch for a climb by 9%–NINE PER CENT, IN GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT, as other ERA-codified countries! It benefits males, increases marital harmony and stabilizes communities!

    ERA–WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE.
    BUT how do we get women marching in the streets with us for ERA once the War on Women is won or lost by us? Write me at SandyO@PassERA.org AND check into all the current, comprehensive, correct information at our http://www.2PassERA.org.. You WILL be glad you Did!
    CHEERS! SANDY OESTREICH, founder-pres, National ERA Alliance
    fmr elected official; nurse practitioner, Prof Emerita at Adelphi U,NY, co-author of internationally distrib. pharmacology reference texts; profiled in Feminists Who Changed America; mom of 2 and wife; 2012 recipient of the Susan B Anthony, “Failure is IMPOSSIBLE” award.

  2. I have been hearing those who disagree with the wage gap make arguments like “men work an average of 44 hours a week, and women work an average of 41 hours a week” and then draw the conclusion that THAT explains away the wage gap. I would assume that these rebuttals have been themselves refuted or answered. When one person says a man and a woman with the same experience, and same seniority, doing jobs with the same job description, at the same company aren’t paid the same wage, and the other person says women tend to go into professions that don’t pay as well, that strikes me as an apples and oranges comparison. I’d love to see something that tackles these oft-repeated talking points.

    • Well that’s just it. It is apples and oranges. When you compare apples to apples the gender wage gap disappears. When you compare a man and a women with the exact same education and work history, there really isn’t a difference in pay. Men are willing to work longer, travel further, work more dangerous jobs, work more unpleasant jobs (sanitation, sewer, etc). It’s been shown over and over again that when women make the same career choices that men do, the wage gap shrivels up faster than a penis at a feminist rally. Feminists blame men for women’s choices. They always will. If I ever have a daughter that becomes a feminist, I’ll know that I failed as a father. REAL strong and independent women Do. Feminists blame.

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