Women gain in education, but not in pay

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the "Survey of Income and Program Participation" (combined 2004 and 2008 surveys).

Women are outperforming men in educational attainment, but they are still making less than men in general and in specific jobs, according to a new report.

Despite female graduates now outnumbering male graduates in every level of postsecondary education—61 percent of associate degrees are earned by women, the highest in any postsecondary sector—they still earn just 81 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Women with the same college majors working the same careers as men earn only 92 cents for every dollar earned by men.

There are myriad reasons for the disparity, the report notes, including gender bias and women intentionally going into careers that pay less but offer more flexibility, according to the report. Women comprise half of business majors and nearly 40 percent major in the physical sciences, but they still tend to select specific majors and jobs that emphasize service to others and are undervalued in labor markets, it said.

Same among associate-degree earners

Women have made significant strides in attaining associate degrees, accounting for 75 percent of the growth in awarded associate degrees since the 1970s, the center says. Yet, just like in the broader national scope, women with associate degrees — even with the same degrees in the same jobs as men — earn less.

Overall, the median male associate-degree holder earns $56,000 annually, 43 percent more than the median annual income of $39,000 that women with the same degree earn, according to the report. As with bachelor’s degrees, the huge gap results, in part, from women studying and working in different occupations than men. Men are four times more likely to enroll in STEM fields, while women are three times more likely to study health professions. Men also are twice as likely to study other career and technical education fields.

Health sciences is the most common field of study and yields the highest compensation ($51,000) for female associate-degree holders, the center says. Yet their earnings still are less than males. Aside from health sciences, women with associate degrees tend to be in lower-earning majors, such as business/office management, liberal arts/humanities and education. Men are more likely to get  associate degrees in fields that pay more, such as computer and information services, vocational/technical studies and engineering/drafting.

Even within the same field of study men earn more. Among associate-degree holders who studied business/office management, men earned a median $56,000 annually compared to $38,000 earned by women.

Certificate slide

The center also looked at certificate attainment and found that they have limited market value for women. The reports says the wage premium conferred by a certificate compared to a high school diploma is 27 percent for men but just 16 percent for women.

“This disparity is so great that it may be driving women to opt instead for at least a two year associate’s degree,” the report says.

However, industry test-based or state licenses are different. On average, a woman with a professional certification or occupational license can earn $13,000 more per year compared to a woman without one. Men with such a certification earn about $14,000 more annually than men who don’t.

Why bother?

Despite little financial benefit of earning a certificate, the center cites women still do so for two main reasons. First, these fields continue to offer many part-time jobs, and women may have chosen the fields for convenience, such as flexible work schedules and career relevance. Second, few middle-skilled jobs with middle-class earnings are available to women who don’t have at least an associate degree, “so there might be better opportunities for holders of the postsecondary vocational certificate — especially if it offers opportunities for self-employment,” the report says.

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