Reversal of the College Gender Gap Doesn’t Reverse the Wage Gap

By Guest Contributor Nadia Jones

Earlier this year, CBS News reported that, for the first time, women now have surpassed men in acquiring more advanced degrees as well as bachelor’s degrees. What was only a few decades ago unthinkable, now is a reality—women, as a whole in this country, are more educated than men. Since educational credentials create more and better career opportunities, it would be logical to assume that women now earn more than men. But this is far from being the case. Why?

To be sure, women’s real wages have been on the rise for years, while men’s real wages have either plateaued or dropped, as noted in an op-ed column in the New York Times, “The Myth of Male Decline.” The author of the column, Stephanie Coontz, goes on to note several startling statistics indicating an abiding wage gap despite women having attained more education. For example, women with an MBA are paid almost $5,000 dollars less in starting salaries compared to men with the same degree. Over the course of their lifetime, men MBA-degree holders will continue to outrank and out-earn women. These stats hold true even if a woman decides to remain childless.

So what’s going on here? Hanna Rosin, author of the The End of Men, posits a more optimistic conclusion. Despite the wage gap that exists between men and women in various positions and industries, despite the fact that women in leadership positions represent a small fraction of the female workforce, Rosin notes:

“But zoom the graph back a few decades and you can see how far we’ve come—and that the lines all point one way: Men’s wages have been stagnating, and by some measures declining, as women’s economic fortunes continue to rise. The wage gap has been slowly closing for women, but the education gap has not been closing for men. We can focus only and eternally on the fact that those lines have not yet crossed or even converged in many professions. But isn’t that vantage point a bit narrow? Why does we’re-not-there-yet mean we’re not headed there?”

Both authors agree that social pressure on men, what Coontz dubs “the male mystique,” punishes men for taking on traditionally more female choices, like sacrificing time spent on their jobs and careers to spend more time with their family.

Ultimately, I believe the persisting gender wage gap isn’t necessarily only the product of overt discrimination, although that’s certainly part of the story, as we can see from last year’s class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart. There’s also a host of other factors that come into play. Women tend to have less linear careers than men because they take more time off from work to raise children than men do. In order for this to change, we should socialize boys from an early age such that they are just as encouraged and supported as adults to take time off from work for family as women are. We need employers to act on work-life balance, and not just pay lip service to it.

What’s more, we need to encourage women to consider different, more lucrative, more in-demand careers in STEM fields and business. It’s not that women aren’t cut out for such careers, or that they don’t want to pursue careers. The real reason, in my opinion, is that we aren’t raised to pursue these interests, just because “math” and “money” and “science” have been spun as “boys’ interests.” I’m not suggesting we push women into these fields, but we should, starting from an early age, encourage children to pursue their passions, no matter what those passions are.

What do you think is behind the abiding wage gap between men and women, even in the face of more educated women? What must women (and men) do to close it?

Nadia Jones is a freelance writer and blogger who’s fascinated by trends in higher education. Nadia also enjoys writing about education reform, parenting, feminism, and entrepreneurship. Read more of her writing at Nadia welcomes your comments below!


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