Report: Women Need Additional Degree to Attain Equal Pay - Higher Education
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Report: Women Need Additional Degree to Attain Equal Pay


Although women have surpassed men in educational attainment, they still earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to a new study from researchers at Georgetown University.

Released on Tuesday, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce’s report — “Women Can’t Win: Despite Making Educational Gains and Pursuing High-Wage Majors, Women Still Earn Less than Men” – indicates that women must hold one more degree than men to achieve pay parity. Combining factors leading to pay inequity include gender discrimination and women’s historical concentration in lower-paying majors and occupations.

Dr. Nicole Smith

“Women’s earnings still lag their exceptional educational progress,” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, the lead author of the report and director of the Georgetown Center. “At the heart of the gender wage gap is discrimination in pay for the same sets of qualifications and experience.”

Researchers at the Georgetown Center noted in the report that when comparing women and men with equal education and the same college majors working in the same occupation, women still made only 92 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Further, women need “ideally at least a bachelor’s degree” to make family-sustaining wages while a “small share of men” can make it with just a high school diploma, according to the report.

Other findings show that socially and culturally reinforced “sex-segregated” interests that factor into what college majors and occupational choices women make. Women are highly concentrated in the lowest-earning majors – 76 percent of all education majors and 72 percent of psychology majors, for example.

Due to the wage gap, more women than ever are enrolling in college and pursuing higher-paying majors in STEM and business fields. Three million more women are enrolled in postsecondary education than men, the report said.

Women degree earners account for 61 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degree, 60 percent of master’s degrees and 52 percent of doctoral degrees. This increase in education has narrowed the wage gap from women earning just 57 cents for every man’s dollar in 1975 to women now earning 81 cents to a man’s dollar today, according to the Georgetown Center.

Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale

Nonetheless, researchers said education is a partial step to eliminating pay disparities between men and women because women entering higher-paying majors tend to select the “least lucrative sub-majors.”

Of women in STEM, 54 percent concentrate in biological and life sciences – one of the lowest-paying majors – compared to the 17 percent of women in engineering, one of the highest-paying majors, the report said.

Similarly, only 33 percent of women in the business field major in finance compared to less-lucrative business majors such as human resources, where 65 percent of majors are women, the report said.

In high-paying occupations, 27 percent of CEOs, 44 percent of lawyers and 43 percent of physicians and surgeons are women. Researchers’ comparisons reveal that in these high-paying fields, women are more likely to be market research analysts and marketing specialists (59 percent), paralegals and legal assistants (85 percent) and registered nurses (89 percent).

Dr. Nicole Smith, co-author of the report and chief economist at the Georgetown Center, said in a statement that the “standard apology” given for the wage gap is that women have “less tenure in their jobs due to childcare responsibilities. However, close to 48 percent of women of childbearing age do not have children, and this does not seem to affect their earnings potential in a positive way.”

The report also revealed that American women’s labor force participation rates fall below those of women in other developed nations. Some women in other developed countries, the report said, have supportive laws in place for them to take care of children or elderly relatives and they experience smaller gender wage gaps.

“While education has reduced the gender wage gap, the report finds it has not erased it,” the Georgetown Center emphasized. Unless there are “major social and legal changes,” researchers warn, women will be “at the mercy of six rules” for achieving equal pay. The report cited those rules as:

  • Rule 1: Get one degree or more in order to have the same earnings as a man.
  • Rule 2: Pick majors that pay well, as major choice largely determines earnings.
  • Rule 3: If you major in liberal arts, get a graduate degree to attain middle-class earnings.
  • Rule 4: Negotiate your first paycheck well, as it will impact your lifetime earnings.
  • Rule 5: Be careful with postsecondary vocational certificates because they have limited labor market value for women.
  • Rule 6: If you don’t pursue a B.A., consider getting an industry-based certification.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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