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Will Young Women Always Make Lower Pay Than Men?

pelosi-hofgren.jpg

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., right, discuss the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke

Young women entering the work force face a grim reality in today's job market. In the past year, the gender pay gap has gotten significantly worse for female employees.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a report showing women new to the workforce are paid only 82 cents to men’s dollar. Making matters worse, 20 percent of women who are able to land a job out of college are devoting more than 15 percent of their paycheck back into student loans.

While pay gaps exist in nearly every occupational field, jobs traditionally associated with men tend to pay better than traditional “female jobs” for the same skill requirements. This segregation of traditional gender roles in the work force is a major factor behind the pay gap.

“Full time working women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, this figure hasn't budged in the last 10 years, Megan Morrison of AAUW said.

Universities and college women are seeing the impact first hand, as female graduates walk away from campus into a working world that provides better compensation to their male counterparts. 

Conventionally, earnings increase as years of education increase. While more education is typically an effective means for increasing pay, it is not an effective tool for rationalizing the gender pay gap. AAUW shows that at every level of academic achievement, women’s median earnings are less than men’s median earnings, and in some case, the gap is largest at higher levels of education.

University administrators note that one way for female college students to chip away at the pay gap is to acquire more skills while they're in college.

“From my experience, the pay gap for fresh graduates has to do in large part with the skills and knowledge that they picked up in their bachelor's degrees,” Mary Gray, an economics professor at American University, said.

Gray suggests young women take an early preemptive move toward solidifying better pay while they are in college.

“It’s fine to major in the humanities, but knowing how to do data analysis or to program a computer is something that they could be learning along the way if they are concerned about their chances for pay equity,” she said.

Administrators also advise taking courses in college specializing in economics and public speaking, to prepare female students to better address issues in the work place in a confident manner.

“Negotiating pay is something that many new hires will experience, unfortunately women are deemed weak, not able to communicate their issues in the office environment,” said Maria S. Floro, an economics professor of at American University.

Floro added that by taking courses in communications or public speaking, women can become more comfortable in high-stress situations, including pay discussions.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, a follow-up measure that provides an update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, was on center stage in President Obama's State of the Union address as he urged Congress to enact legislation ensuring men and women receive equal pay for equal work.

“This is an essential law, but it is by no means sufficient," AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman said. "[Women] should enter the working world with the knowledge that pay discrimination will no longer be tolerated, and they will have a fair chance to provide for themselves and families." 

 

Emily Roseman a reporter for Campus Progress.

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