By: Catherine Yourougou, FellowPosted on October 26, 2012 Issues: Equal Pay & the Wage Gap Workplace

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) just published its report on the gender gap after college graduation, Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation. Limiting responses to recent graduates just one year out, the report reveals some well-known truths, some not well-known truths, and some startling revelations about Bachelor degree recipients.

There is a gender gap… and it starts early

On average, women make less than men make. We know this: it is well-documented; there are laws in place to prevent it. You can find differences among states here and helpful FAQs here.

Opponents of pay fairness legislation try to explain away the wage gap; they claim it is a matter of individual choice. Women work fewer hours, take time off for children, and “prefer” certain fields. But did you know that recent college graduates – women who are young, relatively inexperienced, often without children – face pay discrimination just like older women? From the beginning of their careers, women earn less than men. Even with average higher GPAs, women still make less than men. According to the report, women recent graduates, on average, make only $35,296 to men’s $42,918 (82% of men’s wages).

Education and occupation do not explain all of the gender gap

It’s true that some of the gender gap is “explained” by majors and occupation. Some majors and occupations are male-dominated and some are female-dominated. Some are high earners, some are low earners. Men dominate the high-earning majors and careers, and women the low-earning ones. This “self-selection” is a problem that must be addressed. Individual choice is not free from outside influences; gender bias and discrimination exists even before graduates hit the job market. For example, men are more likely to major in engineering and engineering technology, which has higher average salary, while women dominate education.

When it comes to majors, according to the AAUW, women do not earn more than men in the fields studied – they are paid either the same or less. Women engineering majors make 88% of what men engineering majors make. For business majors the figure is 84% and for computer and information systems, 77%.

If we look at occupations, we see the same story. Even within the same occupations, women still make about the same or less than men. The AAUW reports that in PK-12 education, women make 89% of what men make, yet are 79% of that workforce. In business and management, women make 86% of what men make – in sales, 77%.

One-third of the pay gap is UNEXPLAINED

The study makes clear, even when controlling for significant factors, including school and field of study, occupation, and GPA, women still make 7 percent less than men. The AAUW was unable to determine what accounts for the 7% gap that remains, though they posit that gender bias and discrimination may be one reason.

With an eye that that unexplained 7%, we can narrow the wage gap with a combination of policy and education. The AAUW provides recommendations for employers, legislators, and individuals. Employers should increase transparency and conduct internal pay equity studies. Legislators should strengthen equal pay laws, like enacting the Paycheck Fairness Act, and encourage rigorous enforcement. And, to dispel the biased individual choice, students and educators need more education on typical salaries in their field, enabling them to prepare for salary negotiations.

These steps should narrow the gap, but whether it will close the gap remains to be seen.