Study: Higher education playing bigger role in gender wage gap

Aug 09, 2009 by Jeff Grabmeier

While higher education has helped women narrow their long-running wage gap with men, there is one college-related factor that has becoming increasingly important in perpetuating that gap, according to new research.

And that factor is college major.

are still segregated into college majors that will lead them to careers with less pay than men, said Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University at Marion.

"Gender segregation in college is becoming more influential in how men and women are rewarded later in life," Bobbitt-Zeher said.

"If you really want to eliminate earnings inequality, college major segregation is a piece of the puzzle that really stands out."

The findings are especially important now because many people assume that, if anything, college helps women more than it helps men nowadays.

"A lot of people look at data showing that women are more likely to go to college than men, and that women get better grades in college than men, and assume that everything is all right," she said.

"But this research suggests there are still problems for women that relate to college."

Bobbitt-Zeher presented her research August 9 in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

She used data from the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. With these data sets, she was able to compare women who graduated from high school in 1972 and 1992. She compared the incomes of college graduates seven years after their graduations, in 1979 and 1999. Both samples included about 10,000 cases.

Findings showed the income gap between college-educated men and women declined significantly in 20 years - in 1979, women's earnings were 78 percent of their male counterparts, but by 1999 the women were earning 83 percent as much as men.

Using well-accepted statistical techniques, Bobbitt-Zeher estimated how much of that income difference between men and women was explained by various factors in 1979 versus 1999. Some of the factors she examined included occupations and industries that men and women work in; background, including socioeconomic status and race; how much individuals valued earning a lot of money; factors related to parental and martial status; SAT scores; the colleges that people attended and whether they earned graduate degrees; and, of course, the percentage of women in their college majors.

Findings showed that about 19 percent of the income gap between college-educated men and women in 1999 could be explained by their college major - nearly twice as much as in 1979, when 10 percent of the gap was explained by college major.

Although work-related characteristics combine to explain a bigger share of the gap, no other single known factor was more important than college major in explaining the income gap in 1999.

In addition, college major is the only factor explaining a substantial part of the income gap that increased in importance between 1979 and 1999.

"What this suggests is that college major segregation is becoming more important for wage inequality than it used to be," Bobbitt-Zeher said.

Many college majors did become more integrated between 1979 and 1999, she noted.

"Most of integration has come from women making different choices, rather than men moving into traditionally female fields," Bobbitt-Zeher said.

However, significant differences remain in the majors women and men choose. And this is contributing to the gender income gap in a more meaningful way than it did in the past.

The continuing wage gap isn't explained completely by men choosing majors that require greater skills than majors chosen by women, she said.

"Gender composition of majors is a stronger influence on the gender income gap than is the content of the field of study," according to Bobbitt-Zeher.

The reasons for the gender segregation of majors are not entirely understood, she said. Personal choice could play a role, or it could be that girls are still influenced to pursue "women-appropriate" majors. Programs that encourage girls to pursue scientific careers may be part of the answer.

But Bobbitt-Zeher said the results should be a reminder for us not to believe gender inequality in is a problem of the past.

"There's been a lot of attention paid to the fact that women seem to be doing so well in college compared to men. But what people don't know is that education is playing a bigger role than ever in perpetuating the gender gap," she said.

"It's an issue that we need to keep at the forefront."

Source: The Ohio State University (news : web)

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Hyperion1110
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
This woman is an idiot. It's no one's fault but the individual if they choose to major in interior design rather than mechanical engineering.

During my final semester of college, I went down to the residence hall office one night, where an RA was working on her final project (she was also in her last semester). She looked like she was having difficulty with it, so I asked what she was trying to make. The apex of her higher education experience, her magnum opus, was a color wheel! At that point, I walked away, trying my best not to laugh.

If that interior design major makes even 83% of what a mathematics or engineering major makes, then there is something gravely wrong with this world.

It is not the fault of men that women do not choose to work in technical fields in the same numbers as men. A person's choice is his or her own, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, or the like.
Philoponia
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
Even within the same field and major, this can be explained with either real or affirmative action. Let's say you have 10 students in order of "quality":

1. Male
2. Male
3. Female
4. Male
5. Male
6. Male
7. Male
8. Female
9. Male
10. Male

If this is the breakdown, about 5 males to one female, as it is in my engineering schools, then there is bound to be something that happens. Let's say you need to hire 6 people, you would likely try to hire the 6 best, but since it would "look bad" to hire a lot of men, you hire students 1,2,3,4,5,8.

If you then try to pay them "what they're worth" then the women, students 3 and 8 will receive an average wage of about 5. The men have an average of 2.75, so they would deserve more in this group, being higher quality students.

That comes very simply from a gender disparity where the average male student is as good as the average female student when an employer needs to hire women. You could get the same result by requiring the employer hire from a certain state, or something that has nothing to do with gender.
3432682
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2009
Almost all of the pay difference between men and women (do we have a 3rd category yet?) is the number of children. Women spend more time on their children than men. Duh. This silly article tries to paint women as victims of "segregation" in college. Women of course make their own free choice of majors, it is not segregation. There are a huge number of majors which have no business being in a university, and years ago in more rational times, they did were not in the university. This type of article is an excuse to invent some new identity politics discrimination against men, who now make up about 40% of college enrollment.
Soylent
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
If I had a significant chance of breaking my leg and taking a year off of work my employer would naturally be inclined to compensate by lowering my wage. This is especially true for specialized work where it will take an outsider a significant amount of time just to get up to speed.

It's not just taking care of children during that depresses female wages, it's the posibility of unexpectedly having a child in the middle of some important project.
david_42
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
If you rank the top ten majors for earnings potential, nine have Engineering in the title and the other one is Computer Science. Fields that women refuse to enter. This is a personal decision and has nothing to do with segregation.

Compare salaries in the same field, at the same level of education and experience and you'll find women tend to make more than men. Whining because an arts or social work degree doesn't earn as much as Engineering, is just whining.
vanderMerwe
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
You had to know that the author of this "study" is on the faculty of a sociology department.