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Campus Women Lead

Spring 2010

Volume 39
Number 1

The Gender Pay Gap


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Higher Education and the Gender Pay Gap

Higher Education and the Gender Pay Gap
Jacksonville University

It’s not difficult to understand why undergraduate students might think that feminism’s work is done. From the relatively privileged vantage point of the ivory tower, women (or at least female students) seem to be doing pretty well these days. As undergraduates, women represent the clear majority of the national student population and earn higher grades on average than men (Sax 2008, 1). But upon graduation, the gender gap favoring women vanishes, at least in one respect. One year after entering the workforce, women with bachelor’s degrees make only 80 percent of what their male peers earn, a figure that drops precipitously to 69 percent after ten years (Dey and Hill 2007, 2). As complex as the realities behind those statistics are, there is no better antidote to postfeminist apathy than the realization that no matter how equitable one’s college was, one’s paycheck is in another realm altogether.

To say that the trouble begins once women graduate, however, is to miss the point. As Andresse St. Rose details in this issue, women’s compensation both results from women’s cumulative choices, and is more than a matter of choice—that is, the decisions women make even before reaching college, combined with the discrimination they face in the workplace, are responsible for their lower compensation. To the extent that higher education guides women’s career goals and formulates all students’ capacity to treat others fairly, it is, in fact, partially responsible for alleviating and perpetuating the gender pay gap. And to the extent that higher education is itself an employer with a gender pay gap of its own, that responsibility reaches even further.

This issue of On Campus with Women explores how higher education affects the pay gap—a very real source of continuing inequity for American women. Contributing author Donna Bobbit-Zeher examines how choice of college major informs the pay gap, while Andresse St. Rose writes specifically about how colleges and universities could help ease income disparities by attracting more women to the sciences. Examining the psychological underpinnings of unequal pay, Melissa Williams examines how unconscious bias can play out in the workforce, and suggests what this means for educators. Meanwhile, John Curtis puts higher education’s reward structures under the microscope as he probes what statistical analyses of faculty salaries tell us about equity’s true state.

The pay gap is much more than an abstract number: it has very real consequences for the women it affects. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, a female college graduate will lose $1.2 million over the course of her working life as a result of the gender wage gap (and the total jumps to $2 million for professional school graduates) (2009). Women invest in higher education in part to avoid such shortfalls (and to build the closely related capital of skills, intellect, and experience). Just imagine what their investments could be with $1.2 million more to spare. Higher education should invest in turn in making sure women’s equity exists within and beyond its gates.

Kathryn Peltier Campbell, editor


Dey, J. G., and C. Hill. 2007. Behind the pay gap. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

National Committee on Pay Equity. 2009. The wage gap over time: In real dollars, women see a continuing gap.

Sax, L. J. 2008. The gender gap in college: Maximizing developmental potential of women and men. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

"After graduation, gender segregation in college major choice is reflected in gender segregation in the workforce, with significant economic consequences for women."

--Andresse St. Rose


This issue of On Campus with Women explores how higher education affects the pay gap, a very real source of continuing inequity for American women.

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In celebration of Campus Women Lead's tenth anniversary, CWL members reflect on the group's origins and reaffirm its commitment to women's inclusive leadership in higher education.

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Karen Larson, executive director of Friendship Bridge, provides perspective on women's participation in the global economy with a report on gender equity in Guatemala.

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