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September 5, 2018 | Business & Finance

Women Earn More College Degrees But Men Make More Money

Forbes | Janet Napolitano
Women Earn More College Degrees But Men Make More Money

It’s the college ranking season and especially if you’re a prospective college student or a parent, these shorthand markers of a school’s quality, value, and – let’s face it – prestige, are a big deal.

They’re also a big deal to the University of California system I lead. We do a lot of celebratory horn blowing around this time of year.

On the latest Forbes top colleges list, for example, the University of California, Berkeley is the highest ranked public university campus in the nation, and five other UC campuses – UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, and UC Irvine – are in the top 22. Forbes also ranked UCLA as this year’s Number 1 Best Value School. All of this is the social media equivalent of a loud “woo-hoo!”

The excitement over college rankings, and the proliferation of such lists themselves, certainly speaks to the importance of higher education in the public mind. It’s hardly news anymore that a college education is a game-changer in achieving what we used to call the American Dream. U.S. Labor Department statistics show that overall, college graduates today earn roughly 98% more per hour than people without a degree.

Women, especially, have internalized the message that higher education pays. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women make up more than 56% of college students nationwide.

But here’s the rub. Despite the tremendous educational gains that women have achieved, men still earn higher wages, virtually across the board. Since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 – when women earned an average of 59 cents for every dollar paid to a man – the gender pay gap has narrowed by less than half a cent per year, to about 80 cents on the dollar today.

At this rate, the overall U.S. wage gap won’t close until the year 2059, when today’s newly minted college graduates will be about 62 years old.

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Source: iStock
It’s even worse when we look specifically at women of color . Latinas earn 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Latino men, while the ratio is 57 cents for Native Americans and 63 cents for African-Americans.

In other words, men with the same qualifications and degrees as their female counterparts earn more than women performing the same jobs, across industries and fields, with pitifully few exceptions. And as careers progress, men are promoted more often and the gender pay gap grows.

The research that backs this up suggests why this might be. Women students at the University of California , for example, are disproportionately concentrated in fields that pay their graduates less – such as the social sciences and arts and humanities – whereas men are overrepresented in engineering, computer science, and business majors. This mirrors the situation nationwide.

A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce points out that even when women pursue degrees in high-paying fields, they are still more likely to choose the least lucrative majors. Finance, for example, is one of the most lucrative majors in business, yet only 33% of finance majors are women.

Then there’s the sage, and unfortunately still applicable, advice that so many mothers give their daughters as they grow up: work twice as hard as a man to achieve the same results. Case in point: today a woman with a bachelor’s degree earns roughly the same as a man with an associate’s degree, and the same holds for women with master’s degree compared to men with bachelor’s degrees and for each successive level of educational attainment.

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So what can each of us do? Making ourselves and others aware of the extent of the problem is a first step. On an individual level, women should choose their field of study keeping in mind what effect that might have on their future earning power. It might not matter to some, but others might be frustrated when they fully grasp that fields dominated by women pay far less than those in “more masculine” industries.

First jobs right out of college are also critical to setting the stage for women’s future earning power. Men have traditionally negotiated for higher salaries right out of the gate, leaving women behind a growing pay gap as they progress in their careers.

Businesses and government, too, should play a role in righting this wrong. Already 11 states , including California and New York, have banned employers from asking job applicants for their salary history, a practice that can easily lock women into lower pay.

At Salesforce, the business software giant headquartered in San Francisco, CEO Marc Benioff invested an initial $3 million to close the company’s wage gap after an audit showed women’s salaries needed to be raised by 10% to achieve parity with men. That worked, but not for long. Inequity returned thanks to advancement practices that favor men, as well as the acquisition of companies with their own stubborn pay imbalances. So Benioff kept at it, spending another $3 million and adopting policies that would help ensure women are paid what they are worth.

People – mostly women – have been talking about gender income inequality for generations, and, yes, women know the lessons of persevering. But a half cent of progress per year just isn’t good enough. Let’s eliminate the gender pay gap once and for all.

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