Is The Gender Wage Gap (Partially) Caused By Major Choice?
It has long been remarked that women earn less money than men. Whether this reflects invidious discrimination or differential participation in the labor force is a hot topic in the social sciences. We decided to take a look at it from another angle: do young ladies simply major in poor paying occupations in college?
Using our database of median salaries for particular majors (described here), we cross-referenced the most popular undergraduate majors against the National Center for Education Statistics Digest of Education Statistics.
According to the DES, roughly 42% of the undergraduate degrees awarded in 2008 went to men, with the remaining 58% going to women. (Once in rough balance, the percentage of degrees awarded to men fell precipitously for most of the last decade, only recently pausing at about 42 ~ 43%.)
For each popular undergraduate degree in our database, we made the best guess as to which classification it would fall under in the DES data set (which has somewhat less resolution than our database -- for example, we have an entry for Economics and a separate entry for Business Administration while the DES data set lumps both under Business).
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We then classified degrees as:
- Deep blue: dominated by men. (75% or more degrees go to men.)
- Light blue: slightly dominated by men. (65% ~ 75% of degrees go to men.)
- Black: dominated by neither men nor women
- Light pink: slightly dominated by women (65% ~ 75% of degrees go to women.)
- Bright pink: dominated by women. (75% or more degrees go to women.)
Your Preconceptions About Major Choice Are Mostly Correct
We'll happily punt on the question of whether natural aptitude, social conditioning, discrimination, or some other factor explains why each gender dominates some majors and is underrepresented in others. Whatever the reason is, that is observable, undeniable fact. Also compelling is that, if you have preconceptions about which majors are likely to be dominated by men and which are likely to be dominated by women, you are probably correct with most of them.
Men study engineering. Women study education. Men study accounting. Women study journalism. etc, etc.
Female-Dominated Majors Pay Worse Than Male-dominated Ones
We'll spare you the deep delving into the statistics: take a gander at the chart at right. Women disproportionately major in subjects which pay poorly. Men disproportionately major in subjects which pay well. The two conspicuous exceptions in the data set are Nursing, which is female-dominated (to the extent that many nursing schools give affirmative action to men) and pays rather well, and Theology, which is male-dominated and pays rather poorly.
Notably, there are many health-related occupations other than Nursing which are also female-dominated which pay fairly poorly: veterinarians, various types of clinical support staff, medical records specialists, and the like are not paid that well.
Cross-referencing our database of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the map between occupations and majors, and the Digest of Educational Statistics let us come up with the following table of data.
|Major Field of Study||Men : Women Ratio||Median Salary|
|Aviation||88 : 12||$123,228.48|
|Aerospace Engineering||82 : 18||$103,181.12|
|Business Administration||51 : 49||$102,455.84|
|Computer Engineering||82 : 18||$101,710.99|
|Engineering||82 : 18||$89,913.98|
|Nuclear Engineering||82 : 18||$87,380.80|
|Business||51 : 49||$85,813.68|
|Information Technology||82 : 18||$85,080.13|
|Electrical Engineering||82 : 18||$81,091.60|
|Economics||51 : 49||$77,867.29|
|Computer Science||82 : 18||$77,362.37|
|Marketing||35 : 65||$77,129.35|
|Chemistry||59 : 41||$75,265.39|
|Mechanical Engineering||82 : 18||$72,889.98|
|Industrial Engineering||82 : 18||$71,938.16|
|Geology||59 : 41||$71,748.23|
|Criminal Justice||50 : 50||$70,992.60|
|Civil Engineering||82 : 18||$68,574.67|
|Finance||51 : 49||$66,140.17|
|Architecture||57 : 43||$64,402.52|
|Business Management||51 : 49||$63,554.73|
|Art History||39 : 61||$60,987.66|
|Public Relations||35 : 65||$60,766.27|
|Public Health||18 : 82||$60,065.12|
|Human Resources Management||18 : 82||$57,996.98|
|Environmental Science||59 : 41||$51,363.55|
|English||32 : 68||$51,183.77|
|Art||39 : 61||$50,178.71|
|Agriculture||52 : 48||$48,887.66|
|Real Estate||51 : 49||$48,327.62|
|Law||29 : 71||$48,283.87|
|Special Education||21 : 79||$47,885.53|
|Accounting||51 : 49||$45,635.65|
|Elementary Education||21 : 79||$45,323.07|
|Graphic Design||39 : 61||$44,774.23|
|Biology||41 : 59||$44,556.69|
|Food Science||59 : 41||$44,455.32|
|Communications||35 : 65||$42,334.58|
|Social Work||18 : 82||$42,072.23|
|Sociology||49 : 51||$42,072.23|
|Medicine||15 : 85||$40,832.32|
|Education||21 : 79||$39,056.24|
|Physical Therapy||15 : 85||$35,206.29|
|Psychology||49 : 51||$33,296.64|
|Religious Studies||65 : 35||$19,287.45|
|Theology||65 : 35||$19,287.45|
We also did some rough calculations to figure how much this affected the pay gap. One can actually go out and measure the wage gap in any population of interest, but sometimes constructing a fictitious population is illustrative. Consider a fictitious population of graduates in which there were 100 graduates for each of the above degrees, broken down into men and women accordingly, and that each earns the composite median salary among occupations which are common in holders of their degree.
In that fictitious population, the men would have an average salary of $67,403.63 and the women would have an average salary of $55,864.23. Yikes!
A bigger question might be "Should we do anything about it?" It is not obviously the case that someone majoring in English, which leads to a variety of occupations which mostly pay poorly, is worse off than someone majoring in Computer Science, which leads to a variety of occupations which mostly pay well. They may well enjoy English more, like the lifestyle afforded to (say) magazine editors as opposed to long hours slaving over XML configurations, or consider their choice of career of less than primary importance to their personal happiness.
The wage gap has been narrowing for some time, especially in larger cities in the United States. Countries like New Zealand and Belgium are even better. Female executives may not generally make as much as men, but, then again, there is Carol Bartz - who pulled down $47.2 million in 2009.
Supposing that we decide something should be done to further close the gap, one obvious tact is educating young ladies about the market value of their various educational options. Many students, men and women alike, have no clue about what the labor market in their field actually resembles. (Colleges could fix this, trivially. They will not, because colleges are in the business of selling degrees. McDonalds would prefer not to tell you that Big Macs make you fat, and colleges would prefer not to tell you that a graduate degree in Social Work results in poor wages. There are exceptions to both, of course.)
You can do your part in educating people by sharing this article using any of the options at the top of your screen. We also created the following infographic that you can embed in your website to help spread the word.
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<p><a href="http://www.onlinedegrees.org/calculator/salary/gender-wage-gap" _mce_href="/calculator/salary/gender-wage-gap"><img src="http://www.onlinedegrees.org/images/degrees/the-wage-gap.jpg" _mce_src="/images/degrees/the-wage-gap.jpg" border="0" alt="Gender Wage Gap." /></a></p><p><a href="http://www.onlinedegrees.org/research/" _mce_href="/research/">Infographic</a> by <a href="http://www.onlinedegrees.org/" _mce_href="/">Online Degrees.org</a></p>
Even if major choice among the genders were statistically identical, other research suggests that that would not be sufficient to eliminate the wage gap. See, among others, "The Gender Income Gap and the Role of Education", by Donna Bobbit-Zeher at Ohio State University.blog comments powered by Disqus