Gender Pay Inequity A Problem From Day One


By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

Women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. And a new research study indicates the gap begins as female graduates exit college and start their careers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that overall, women earn 82% of what men make.  And now, research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) also shows a very similar entry-level salary gap of 18.4% ($52,266 on average for women in entry-level positions versus $64,022 earned by men). 

Given the entry-level salary gap mirrors the overall gap, NACE executive director Shawn VanDerziel said an important conclusion becomes obvious. “Our study dispels the myth that the gender pay gap results from women prioritizing family over career and thus begins later. We’re seeing the disparity right at the beginning of a woman’s career.”

The NACE study also shows that field of study does not fully explain why men earn more than women.  According to VanDerziel, “What we found is that academic major accounts for some but not all of the disparity. Moreover, one has to consider whether women choose lower-paying majors or whether certain majors are lower-paying because women dominate. There is a compelling case that gender discrimination underlies the gap.”

The Chief Economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Nicole Smith, describes the phenomenon of women pursuing degrees that pay less (like teaching and nursing for example) as “occupational segregation.”  Smith said, “Yes, it is a personal decision, but it’s also driven by socioeconomic challenges, and it is also driven by expectations about what roles women should play in society.”

Still, Smith like VanDerziel notes that gender discrimination appears to be a factor.  Supporting that conclusion, her team found that among individuals in the same industries with the same jobs and exact same level of education, women earn only about 92% of what men make.  

So, VanDerziel and other labor market observers urge organizations to take concrete steps to alleviate the gender pay gap.  “First, standardize pay and eliminate the discretion to set salaries for new hires. And, second, conduct an annual pay-equity analysis to determine if there are salary differentials correlated to gender or race/ethnicity, and, if so, take immediate action where needed.”

The NACE research about the gender pay gap comes from their analysis of 2020 college graduates’ first entry-level jobs. NACE received data from 342 universities across the nation, encompassing 750,000+ students (at the associate, bachelor’s master’s, and doctoral levels).