The difference between what male and female college graduates earn is growing, with men making even more money than women now than they did more than a decade ago, according to a study out Thursday morning that looks at the average wages of young adults.
In their first four years out of school, female college graduates make $17.88 an hour on average, while their male peers earn $20.87, according to the new report from the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.
Put another way, young women make 86 percent of what men earn. That’s slightly better than in 2015, when the gap was 83 percent, but far worse than in 2000, when female college grads made 91 percent of what their male peers earned, according to EPI, which analyzed census data on college graduates ages 21 to 24 without an advanced degree and who aren’t enrolled in further schooling.
Though the EPI report didn’t delve more deeply into the numbers, it’s possible that the widening gulf is attributable to rising income inequality.
The highest-paying jobs in the U.S. are paying even better, and men are landing that work. Think Facebook engineer, Goldman Sachs analyst, etc. “At the very top of the job market, pay is getting really high, and it’s men, primarily, who are getting those jobs,” Elise Gould, a senior economist at EPI who worked on this analysis, told HuffPost.
The EPI report is surprising for a few reasons: Nationwide, on average, the gender gap for all education levels has improved, if slightly, to 80 percent from 73 percent in 2000 (though it’s wider for women of color). Also, the difference in pay between male and female high school graduates has shrunk, the EPI report shows. Female high school graduates make 90 cents for every dollar a guy earns, according to EPI, an improvement.
Beyond that, at least in one sense, more women have reached equality at the college level: They represent the majority of graduates.
Yet, for all that progress, educated women are still losing ground to men, as you can see in the chart as the lines pull apart:
We know from previous economic research that the pay gap between men and women is wider at the top of the income scale. That’s because at the top you can make a lot of money and there’s big variations.
You likely won’t find a janitor who makes 100 times more than another janitor. But in a field like law, for example, pay disparities can be quite wide. A partner in a large firm can bill $1,000 or more an hour, compared with an in-house attorney who makes a far lower salary. Men make up the overwhelming majority of partners at the elite firms.
Gould’s analysis didn’t drill down into choice of major or profession for this report, which offers a big-picture look at college graduates’ wage and employment situation (it’s kind of meh, but you can read more here).
And there’s at least one upside for young women: Their unemployment rates are lower at the moment at 4.4 percent versus 7.1 for men.
The data didn’t look at the types of jobs graduates took. Typically women do wind up taking lower-paying jobs in possibly lower-paying fields. Gender pay gap deniers like to point to this to explain away differences between men and women when it comes to pay. However, a few studies have still found pay disparities even after controlling for fields of occupation.
Even if the entire gap could come down to differences in occupation, the pay gap can’t be explained away. Women don’t simply choose to make less than men. Women make constrained choices about work ― they may have been subtly discouraged from higher-paying fields like science and math or finance, for example. There’s also research that shows that when more women enter a field, the pay goes down.
Sometimes, you just can’t win.