Pay disparities between men and women emerge early on in their careers, with men earning a median of 10% more than women in the first three years after graduating, Melissa Korn, Lauren Weber, and Andrea Fuller report for the Wall Street Journal.
For many, the gender pay gap begins right out the gate
Using data from the Education Department, the Journal analyzed federal tax records from 1.7 million graduates in undergraduate and graduate degree programs at around 2,000 universities from 2015 and 2016 to determine potential pay disparities between men and women.
Overall, the Journal found that men's median pay was higher than women's median pay for almost 75% of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the three years after graduation. And in almost half of these programs, male graduates had median earnings that were at least 10% higher than female graduates' earnings.
For example, men who graduated with a dental degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio earned a median of $140,000 in three years. In comparison, women who graduated with the same degree only earned a median of $103,000 in the same time frame.
Similarly, men who graduated from the nursing master's program at California State University, Fullerton earned a median of $199,000 three years later, compared to $115,000 for women. According to the school, this pay discrepancy is because women in the program typically go into nurse midwifery instead of more lucrative specialties like anesthesiology.
Overall, early-career pay disparities were found at every degree level and in a variety of fields, including those dominated by men and those dominated by women. At a national level, women typically earn an average of 82.3 cents for every dollar men earn, according to data from the Labor Department.
A variety of factors contribute to gender pay disparities
In general, determining why gender pay gaps occur, particularly early on in people's careers, is not straightforward. "There is no neat, tidy explanation" for the early-pay disparities, said Francine Blau, a labor economist at Cornell University.
Some studies suggest that men typically negotiate their salaries more aggressively than women. By not doing so early on in their careers, women may have a more difficult time achieving pay equity later on.
Other studies also suggest that women may avoid more ambitious career goals because they are worried about being unprepared or not having enough experience. And even when men and women have the same academic credentials, some women may choose lower-paying careers to follow a passion instead of a high paycheck.
In addition, implicit bias may impact how recruiters and employers judge female candidates. In some cases, recruiters justify not hiring certain people because they aren't the right fit for a company. However, Monica Thompson, executive director of university career services at the University of Houston, said this usually means a "student didn't look like the person they are used to hiring for that type of work."
"We need executives taking note of this," said Shawn VanDerziel, executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
According to many experts, discrimination also continues to be a factor in pay disparities between men and women, even with laws prohibiting it. For example, the "motherhood penalty," which assumes mothers are less committed to their jobs, often affects whether women are hired or promoted, as well as their salaries.
Anisa Maredia, a dentist who works in the Houston area, said that as a job applicant and later as a participant in hiring interviews, some interviewers would ask about female candidates' marital status and family situations, potentially as a way to gauge their commitment to their careers.
"When the male dentists apply for jobs, they get picked up faster than female dentists," she said. To gain more control over her income and career, Maredia opened her own dental practice and is now earning more than she did working at other clinics.
Overall, even when men and women earn roughly the same amount, "the trajectory of a woman's career remains a nuanced issue, with ongoing factors that continue to play a major role in salary discrepancies," a spokesperson from Georgetown University said. (Korn et al., Wall Street Journal, 8/8)