May 19 2011
More on Women's Choices and the Wage Gap...
An article in the Washington Post online yesterday draws attention to a new study released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) about the "pay gap" - the notion that women earn only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.
The reality about the wage gap is that discrimination is not a significant reason why, on average, women still earn less than men. While there are individual bad employers out there who may discriminate against women, in the aggregate women are outperforming men across the board in terms of college-graduation rates, advanced degrees, purchasing power, and even higher earnings in some areas.
While much of the data used for wage gap research looks at all women, for instance, over the age of 25, NACE thought it would be valuable to conduct research specifically targeted at recent college graduates. Their goal was to determine if perhaps there is a difference in entry-level salaries between genders.
In the past, researchers frequently overlook the different choices men and women make - right down to their college major. As Warren Farrell - three time board member of NOW - explains in his book Why Men Earn More, choices larely account for the differences between men and women.
Even though women earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees today, women tend to choose to major in less competitive - and less remunerative - disciplines. According to a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2009, female students often consider "non-pecuniary" issues like parental approval and enjoyment of future work when choosing a college major, while their male colleagues are more concerned with future salaries and status.
To their credit, NACE looked specifically at students that shared the same major and determined that "the median starting salary offer received by female graduates from the class of 2010 was nearly $8,000 less than for male graduates."
At first this gave me pause. But then I looked to see if they compared jobs or only college majors. It appears they only looked at majors and not where, for instance, graduates were hired. For instance, they consider graduates with an "accounting" major and found the median salary for male graduates with an accounting major was $46,997, while the median salary for female graduates with the same major was $45, 508.
But this still leaves a lot of room for choice. Considering the findings from the Federal Reserve Bank's study, female may choose to pursue accounting at a non-profit that they identify with or a small business where they might have flexible hours, while a male graduate may choose to take their accounting degree to one of the "Big 5" accounting firms. Undoubtedly, these two scenarios would pay out different salaries.
So the question remains? Why are groups like NACE so interested in pointing to discrimination - which takes all agency away from women - rather than accept that women and men make different choices? Does it make women any less important if they choose to accept an accounting job at a think tank or wildlife organization rather than at a Wall Street firm?
In the end, the issue shouldn't be the money women make; rather, it should be about the choices they make.