Ann Mari May

(WOMENSENEWS)–College women on the brink of graduation this spring may be in for a rude awakening.

While they have enjoyed majority status on campus and graduate with higher grade point averages than their male classmates, young women still conspicuously lag in one crucial area: income earnings immediately after graduation.

The American Association of University Women, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, released a report today that finds that one year after college graduation, women make 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. As women’s age increases they fall further behind men. Ten years out of school, women earn 69 percent of what their male peers do.

"We controlled for everything that could have had an effect on earnings," Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women, told Women’s eNews. "And we still found a wage gap among a demographic that you’d expect there to be very little difference with, given, for the most part, that they don’t have caregiving obligations. But surprisingly, and unfortunately, we find that women already earn less; even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts."

Researchers analyzed data of a nationally representative sample of over 19,000 male and female college graduates under the age of 35 and looked at two groups to measure the wage gap over time and to assess the most recent data on college graduates.

The first group received bachelor’s degrees in 1992-1993 and was interviewed in 1994, one year after receiving their degrees, and in 2003, a decade after graduation.

The second group earned degrees in 1999-2000 and was interviewed in 2001, one year after receiving their degrees.

The study found that those who received their degrees in 1992-1993 and those who received degrees in 1999-2000 did not have any significant difference in their earnings one year out of school, revealing that the wage gap has remained stagnant over time.

There have been multiple data collection studies to document the gender wage gap by both government agencies and research entities in recent decades; because they vary in methodology and sampling, studies report subtle differences in measuring the gap.

Lack of Campus Interest

Jenni Daniels

Jenni Daniels, 22, a coordinator for student programs at Tulane University in New Orleans and a 2006 Tulane graduate, says the findings are in sync with a lack of interest in the gender wage gap at her school.

"Students just don’t often show up to career programs. It’s kind of a hard sell," says Daniels. "These women haven’t dealt with pay inequity yet, so it seems far removed from their reality."

Daniels says work-force preparation for women often plays second fiddle to issues such as sexual assault and body image. "Those issues feel more immediate to students than careers, in the sense that everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped," she says. "How they feel about their bodies is also what these young women are thinking about. Eating disorders are rampant on college campuses."

Lauren Magnuson, 20, a senior at Tulane, says she can’t remember a course or conference on campus that has focus on the professional woman. "The majority of speakers who come to campus to talk about careers are men."

Overlooked by Women’s Studies

Ann Mari May, a visiting professor of economics at Middlebury College in Vermont, says pay equity is an important topic for young women. "It’s estimated that a woman will lose $420,000 over the first 20 years of her career by not negotiating on her first salary."

May says campus interest in pay equity can be subdued because women’s studies departments often skirt the subject. "Women’s studies departments have lost touch with many day-to-day concerns for women, such as pay equity. It’s why feminist economics is still a somewhat marginalized topic."

Kassidy Johnson, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Arlington, Va., group dedicated to women’s social, political and economic equality, is in touch with dozens of colleges in the South. She agrees that campus programming for women focuses more heavily on sexual assault, emergency contraception and global women’s issues.

However, Johnson says interest in pay equity was apparent at the group’s recent national leadership meeting for younger women. "Young women want to know how to ask for a raise and negotiate their salary," she says.

University Group Funds 11 Schools

The American Association of University Women, for its part, is pushing women’s workplace programming on a few campuses this year.

The group, which has 500 college and university partners nationwide, launched in 2005 a grant-giving program, called Education as the Gateway to Women’s Economic Security, to help implement campus-based programs along annual themes.

This year it awarded grants of $5,000 each to 11 colleges to use in a variety of programs that fit the theme of planning for an economically secure future.

Students at the University of Guam in Mangilao, with the support of faculty advisors, are studying how woman-friendly their university is. Roger State University in Claremore, Okla., is offering conferences on nontraditional careers and workshops on salary negotiation and financial management. Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia sponsored a series of events, including an art competition and exhibit, roundtable discussions and a "Women and Work" film festival.

At Middlebury, students used the grant for a three-day symposium in March about women’s economic security. Emily Theriault, 22, a senior and one of the co-organizers of the symposium, says it was the first time career issues were raised in such a visible forum in her four years on campus.

"We have been taught to think that because we’ve gone to a good college that we’ll get jobs that pay well," Theriault said. "I’ve seen some research about Middlebury College graduates, however, and it found that over the past 10 years the majority of high-paying fields–such as finance and consulting–are dominated by male graduates and the women are entering fields that don’t pay as well."

Hannah Seligson is a freelance writer based in New York. Her book, "New Girl on the Job," will be published by Citadel Press in June.

For more information:

American Association of University Women Study
Behind the Pay Gap:

Feminist Campus:

Women Don’t Ask
Negotiation and the Gender Divide:

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