Men With 2 Years of Work Experience Earn More Than Women With 6

September 13, 2016, 8:25 PM UTC
Line of Female Students Throwing Their Mortar Boards in the Air at Graduation
Photograph via Getty Images

At this point, it’s well known that women make less than men. But here’s a new plot twist: This holds true even when comparing women to men who have way less experience.

According to a new analysis published Tuesday by left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), women’s average earnings ten years after they enrolled in college are lower than men’s average earnings six years after enrolling. While it takes some people longer to graduate than others (and there are, of course, some dropouts) the primary takeaway is this: Two years after graduation, men generally earn more than women who have been in the workforce for six years.


“This was by far the most surprising finding,” says Antoinette Flores, a policy analyst on the postsecondary education policy team at CAP and the author of the report, which looked at data released with the College Scorecard by the U.S. Department of Education last fall. The analysis focuses on students who enrolled in college in 2001 or 2002.

“We know there’s a wage gap, we know that it grows over time, but the fact that 10 years later, women still haven’t caught up to where men are at 6 years” is shocking, says Flores.

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Last year, Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation, published an analysis using the same data set in the New York Times and noted that the gap is widest for the graduates of universities that tend to produce the highest-earning students. Of the eight Ivy League universities, Harvard University, which had the highest median earnings 10 years after the students’ enrollment, also showed the largest pay gap.

At the time, I spoke to Carey about the potential reasons for this. One explanation: differences in career choice. Many of the highest-earning careers are in STEM or finance, and as I noted last year, 40% of women with engineering degrees either leave the profession or never enter the field, while finance as an industry has a very wide wage gap.

However, CAP’s newest analysis looks at the gap at all—not just elite—public and private non-profit four-year colleges in the U.S., as well as at the differences between men and women with different levels of experience. Looking outside the Ivy League, it’s interesting to note how relatively similar schools can have drastically different wage gaps.

Prime examples include Middlebury College and Tufts University, which rank 15th and 16th for men in terms of 10-year earnings, respectively. Yet Middlebury ranks 105th for women in terms of earnings (the average gender wage gap 10 years after enrollment is over $50,000), while Tufts ranks 19th (the average gap is about $35,000).

“These findings raise questions for schools [such as Middlebury] about why there’s such a high return for men but not nearly as high for women,” says Flores, who recommends that schools “look at the student body and see if there are dramatic differences and see what students are majoring in by gender.”

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