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Duquesne study attributes widening pay gap between male and female graduates to choice of major

From statistics--like the fact that women are surging ahead of men in the job market--to the successful political campaigns of everyone from Meg Whitman to Hilary Clinton, you would be forgiven for thinking that women are gaining progress in the business world. But it seems the old placard signs from so many women’s rights rallies are just as accurate as ever, according to a new study from Duquesne University.

Conducted annually, the 2010 Collegiate Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) study showed that, despite a nationwide uptick in financial expectations for current college graduates, the financial expectation for women exiting college remains less than that of male students. And the trend may continue to get worse. Earnings projected three years into the future indicated an even sharper divide.

“This is a survey we do annually of graduating college seniors across the United States and, among other things, we do ask about income expectation both immediately after graduation as well as a couple of years down the road,” says Dr. Charles Wilf, Assistant Professor at the Duquesne Department of Economics and director of the survey. “60 percent of females expect to earn less than $30,000, compared with only 27 percent of males. Males also expect to make increasingly more in the future.”

The SEER study also examined students’ optimism about going into the workforce, finding that, while 61 percent of the men surveyed felt their prospects for jobs in their fields are good or very good, only 39 percent of the women felt likewise. The study also found that democrats are more likely to be optimistic than republicans.

But Wilf believes the answer is much simpler than that. According to his research, what major you choose tends to steer your optimism and your prospects. This, he says, is the significant deciding factor in America’s current wage gap.

“The main thing that we found, and have found in the past is that men, historically, major in those fields that traditionally pay higher--math, engineering, computer science--things like that,” says Wilf. “Women on the other hand tend to major in liberal arts, social sciences, performing arts; fields that have historically paid less. So we think it is a question of the major one chooses which reflects the income expectation.”

Source: Dr. Charles Wilf, Duquesne University
Writer: John Steele
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