People can endlessly debate how much of the gender pay gap has to do with discrimination, and how much of it has to do with women’s primary responsibility for family life, or other factors put in the category of “choice.” A new study shows that the pay differential between men and women begins right out of college. The study looked at male and female earnings one year after graduating from college. Women working full time earned about 82% of what men earned.
Some of the lingering difference in income relates to the fact that male-dominated jobs pay better. For example, engineering, computer science, and finance pay more than teaching, nursing, and social sciences. More men graduate in the former fields, so even if gender discrimination led to those fields paying more money, the persistent patterns of women choosing not to major in those fields does account for some of the overall pay gap. Evidence also suggests that men work a few more hours per week than do women.
But the American Association of University Women study could not account for the pay disparity between men and women graduating and working in the same fields. Male and female teachers do not earn the same one year after graduation, nor do male and female engineers. This is true even though women’s grade point averages were higher.
The value of comparing new graduates is obvious. They are fresh out of school, with little or no experience, and as equal across the genders as they ever will be. Few have children yet, or other family obligations that need to be managed. They aren’t choosing to work less because of burnout, or moving because of a spouse’s job prospects. And even when motherhood is taken into account, it does not explain the pay gap. It is difficult to blame anything other than discrimination, even if it is largely below the surface.