Women face pay gap right after college

Women face a salary gap with men almost the minute they graduate from college, a new study shows, raising concerns among some women that they encounter a glass ceiling even at the beginning of their careers.

The study, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), found women are paid 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male peers even one year after college. A college education remains the most sure path to a good job for both men and women, but the study suggests men have a leg up in getting a return on that investment, at least in some fields.

“We’re paying the same cost for our college education, but it’s a known fact that we’re not being paid as much as our male counterparts,” said Madeline Greene, 22, a 2008 Northmont High School graduate who recently graduated from Minnesota State University.

Fifty years after the passage of the landmark 1962 Equal Pay Act, women’s issues — including salary inequality — have proven a consistent theme in the presidential campaign. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which extended the statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit, was a hot topic in the presidential debates.

“The question is often posed whether this election will be about women’s issues or economic issues, but women’s issues are economic issues,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director for the Columbus-based research institute Policy Matters. “The pay gap and other gender issues are very important to this election.”

Matt Mayer, president of the free-market think tank Opportunity Ohio, believes only a small group on both sides view gender issues as a deciding factor in their vote: “Most voters will focus on jobs and the economy. They’ll be thinking about what the future looks like and which candidate will bring them a better future.”

A recent study on women voters by the Pew Center for the People and the Press showed the narrowest gap yet — six points — between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Other national surveys point to a wider gender gap, but if the Pew polling holds true, it would be the narrowest loss for a Republican presidential candidate among women in more than 20 years. (John McCain was edged out among women voters by 13 percentage points.)

Politics aside, Mayer disagreed with the study’s essential finding, that women start from behind after leaving college. “Most of the studies I’ve seen, when you do an apples-to-apples comparison, show that women earn the same amount of money if they’re in the same field with the same major — a woman with a mechanical engineering degree from UD, for instance, will make the same as a man,” he said. “Differences in majors tends to be what leads to pay differences.”

But that’s not what the AAUW report found. When women do the same work and major in the same field as men, they are still paid less, according to the study — roughly 93 cents to the dollar, on average. There are exceptions. In fields such as nursing, there is no pay gap, with salaries averaging $48,120 one year after college. Pay equity also exists among engineers ($55,046); math, computer and physical science occupations ($48,485); and social services occupations ($29,069), the study found.

Catherine Hill, the study’s co-author and research director for the non-partisan nonprofit organization, which has long advocated for pay equity for women, said the research contradicts a widely-held notion. The pay gap doesn’t stem solely from women making sacrifices to raise children, she said, or choosing careers that are lower-paid.

“Part of the pay gap simply can’t be explained away by these choices,” she said.

Pamela Morris, president and chief executive officer for CareSource, a large managed care nonprofit in Dayton, said she is disappointed with the findings. “It’s disconcerting that new college graduates are starting out behind,” she said. “I would have hoped we had made more progress by now.”

Particularly troubling, said Morris, is how little the needle has moved. Among all full-time American workers, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a figure that has remained unchanged since 2001. In Ohio, full-time working women earn a median annual salary of $35,746 compared with $46.176 for men.

Hill said the gap narrowed in the ’80s and ’90s, “but it has stalled and stayed in the same range for nearly 10 years.”

Morris believes part of the solution lies with getting more women into leadership positions. “When companies are run by women, it’s more at the top of your mind,” she said. “I can say with complete assurance that there is no pay gap between men and women at CareSource.”

Lauren Piero, 22, said the competitive pay package was a large part of why she accepted a full-time job at CareSource after graduating this year from Wright State University. Beyond that, she said she was inspired by the presence of a female CEO.

“She is a great role model,” Piero said of Morris. “I have a career path, and it doesn’t matter what roadblocks I encounter. I’m going to make it.”

Many young women are concerned about the pay gap, whether it affects them or not. Madeline Greene is worried about her chosen field — sports administration and coaching — because there are so few women in it. “Men are more likely to hire men, and to promote men,” Greene said.

The report also found that 20 percent of women working full time one year after graduation devote more than 15 percent of their earnings to paying back college loans, a significantly higher percentage than male graduates. That matters, according to Miami University economics professor Bill Even, because women are a growing share of the labor market.

“They’re getting a lower return on that huge investment,” he said. “The debt burdens are making it difficult to have the same standard of living as their parents, and that in turn will affect the economy.”

No all young women are experiencing a pay gap.

Kaylee Price of Centerville already has earned a promotion at her company, Lastar Inc. in Moraine, after graduating in May from Bowling Green State University with a degree in advanced technological education.

“I feel as if I am paid equally, and based on education, probably even more than my male co-workers,” she said. “I’m sure some women are underpaid, and I’m lucky I’ve never experienced that.”

Her mother advised her not to go into a technical field, fearing there would be no opportunities for women. The opposite has happened, however, and Price urges women to “leverage themselves into technical, predominantly male fields” because there are so few women who apply.

Sierra Zumwald, 23, who grew up in Englewood, wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings, though she said that she is earning an equal salary in her new job at the Columbus Zoo.

“It’s really sad,” she said. “The problem is that not enough people know the truth about what is going on.”

Her mother, Teresa Zumwald, believes education should begin at home. As the owner of a communications consulting and speechwriting company, she has become very comfortable talking about her fees. But she noticed her three daughters had great difficulty telling clients what they charged for babysitting. When Zumwald asked about the hourly rate, the girls invariably replied, “I didn’t ask, and they didn’t say.”

“Girls are not comfortable talking about money,” noted Zumwald, who serves on the advisory board for the local chapter of Women in Business Networking. “I know a Millennial woman with a college degree who accepted a job without knowing the actual pay or benefits.”

She hopes the pay equity study creates an awareness that brings about lasting change.

“Let’s teach our daughters,” she said. “Let’s talk about it around the dinner table, and encourage our schools to talk about it. Women have to know what we’re worth and how to value our time and skills.”

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