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Saturday, July 26, 2014 | Last updated: 4:13am

Recent college graduates must mind the pay gap between genders



Good news. You know how people are freaking out about finding employment after graduation? This isn’t a column about that fear. This is about how, even if you do find employment shortly after graduation, you’ve still got to worry about the gender gap in your salary.

Women who become employed after graduation will likely earn less than their male counterparts. And that disparity will be evident just a year into their post-grad career.

In a study called “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” researchers with the American Association of University Women looked at the earnings of men and women working full-time in 2009 — the most recent year data was available — one year after they had graduated from college.

It would be easy to assume that a group of recent college graduates — all of similar age with similar levels of education and family responsibilities — would not experience much of a pay gap, if any. But on average, men earned nearly $8,000 more than women did.

According to the report, researchers found women’s pay was on average 82 percent of men’s pay one year after graduation.

AAUW has been tracking the gender gap in pay for decades, but because people make different choices throughout their careers, men and women were hard to compare.

“We decided that to really compare apples to apples, we had to look right at the beginning of the college-educated workers’ careers,” said report co-author Christianne M. Corbett to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The study controlled for factors such as college major, occupation and number of working hours, and it noted that college major is a factor in earnings.

But even when men and women were in the same field, a pay gap remained. Women who majored in business earned about $38,000. Men earned about $45,000. That gap was evident across many disciplines, including fields that are historically more female-dominated, such as teaching.

“Consider a hypothetical pair of graduates — one man and one woman — from the same university or who majored in the same field,” writes Corbett and co-author Catherine Hill in the report on “Graduating to a Pay Gap.” “One year later, both were working full time, the same number of hours each week, in the same occupation and sector.”

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted. Yet, Corbett and Hill say, the analysis shows that despite being alike in every factor, the woman in that hypothetical situation would earn about 7 percent less than the man would.

Researchers also found the pay gap affects paying off student loan debt. Of full-time workers who had graduated in 2008, 53 percent of women and 30 percent of men were using more of their earnings toward loan debt than what researchers estimated men or women would typically be able to afford.

In 2001, these numbers were only 27 percent of men and 38 percent of women. Women are earning less and struggling more.

Women can make different choices to level the playing field, the report says, such as choosing to major in fields that offer better salaries and being more willing to negotiate for higher salaries.

But these measures make women the only actors in changing the pay gap when it really shouldn’t be their responsibility alone. Besides, because women are paid less in every field, even ones that they usually dominate, these decisions won’t eliminate the pay gap entirely.

Employers ought to check their pay scales to ensure that they’re paying their male and female employees equally. But It may also be time to revisit the Equal Pay Act. Legislators must re-examine existing policies that need updating and strengthening.

Women can do a lot, and deserve pay that recognizes this fact. But they can’t change the pay gap on their own.

— Kristina Bui is the editor-in-chief for the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @kbui1 .


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