Recent pay gap increase could hit female graduates hard

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (U-WIRE) — Female students make up 55 percent of the population at Syracuse University. They will be represented in fields such as aerospace engineering, biology and business management. They will take the same courses and tests as men. They will have the same qualifications as men. They will be offered the same jobs as men.

They will make less money than men.

The wage gap that exists between college-educated men and women increased over the past decade, according to information gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The difference in salaries earned by men and women in the same professions had been steadily decreasing since 1979, but recent statistics published by the BLS suggest women with a degree from a four-year college are not experiencing the same increase in wage equality women in general are.

In an article published by The New York Times in December 2006, it was reported the hourly wage earned by women decreased by one cent for every dollar a man makes over the span of the past decade.

Although women now make up more than half the population of college students and have gained a stronger presence in traditionally male-dominated fields such as medicine and engineering, they still risk making less than their male co-workers.

Discrimination and personal choice were cited as two possible causes for the increasing wage gap. Some experts disagree.

“I’m suspicious of (both) explanations,” said Dan Black, a trustee professor of economics at the Maxwell School of Citizenship.

While both are likely reasons for why the wage gap exists in the first place, neither can be linked with the sudden change, and neither explains why the change is occurring now, said Black.

According to Black, there may still be residual stereotypes in the workplace, but there is no evidence of a sudden increase in sexual discrimination cases to back up that hypothesis.

The New York Times also cited the lack of government-imposed laws like Title VII as a reason for the increase in the wage gap. The law, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawed discrimination based on sex (among other things) in the workplace.

Black did not agree the government was to blame for the developing wage gap.

“Then why the change in the ’80s?” he said, referring to a period during which the wage gap narrowed despite a lack of legislation aimed at it.

While the Labor Department reported an increase in the number of higher-educated women who are staying home with young children, it is women who are ages 55 to 65 years old that made the highest median weekly earnings in 2006, as noted by the BLS. However, the average age of a woman when she gives birth to her first child is 25, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Like Black, Patrick Cihon, a professor in the Whitman School of Management, sees the societal expectations concerning women and family as a probable reason for the existence of the wage gap, but not the recent change.

“In management and higher-paying professions, there might be concern (from employers) about women leaving to take care of children,” Cihon said.

Also, some women may be forced to choose lesser-paying positions that offer more stable hours, which cater to family life. Surgeons, for instance, are among the highest paid professionals in the country. However, their erratic schedules may make it harder for a woman to balance a family life along with the workload. As a result, a field like pediatrics can be a more desirable choice for women, even though the job doesn’t pay as well as a career in surgery.

Kaitlyn Wurz, a senior biology major and pre-med student, said that while family may force some women to compromise their job preferences, the reason cannot be applied to all women.

“I can see women picking professions that have more predictable schedules,” said Wurz. “(But) if I’m going to go to medical school, if I’m going to put all this effort into it, I’m going to go into what role I want to.”

Both Black and Cihon suggested the uneven distribution of the economy in the United States at this time could spark the change seen in the gender gap. “Executive/CEO pay and bonuses are going through the roof,” said Cihon.

If the wealthiest people in the country are seeing the biggest increase in pay, and if that small percentile happens to be dominated by males, then it would account for the change.

Even with that theory, however, Black remains unconvinced. “It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. If anything, according to Black, the gap should be narrowing further.

Wurz agreed. “I’m shocked,” he said. “I would think that the gap would decrease for college-educated women. It goes to show that we haven’t made the progress we thought we did.”

Few female students were aware of the variation in the wage gap, and most admitted that although they knew the gap existed, they rarely worried about it.

“Honestly, I never really thought about it,” said Jo Anne Lonzanida, a freshman civil engineering major.

Lonzanida said she thought fields that have historically been dominated by men may simply take longer to adjust and stop favoring men for high-paying positions.

“People might just be going with men because it’s what they’re used to,” she said.

Although many believe that a wage gap will always exist, Lonzanida remains optimistic.

“I think once there are more women in the field and they get a chance to prove themselves, the gap will eventually close,” she said.