Despite More College Degrees, Young Women Still Make Less Than Men

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The good news: a new report from the Pew Research Center finds that the gender wage gap for young women between the ages of 25 and 34 has narrowed considerably since 1980. The bad news: despite the fact that they are significantly more likely to have a bachelor’s degree — 38 percent compared to 31 percent — they still make less than their male peers. Last year, women ages 25 to 34 made 93 percent of men’s hourly earnings — a narrow gap, but a gap nonetheless.

The report notes that the overall gap in hourly earnings is 84 percent. And while it may be narrowing for younger women, there’s reason to believe it will still yawn as they progress in their careers. Women fresh out of college get paid less in their first job than men who graduate with the same grades, majors, and choice of occupation. The wage gap really starts to widen, though, around the time when many people decide to have children. Their wage growth starts to drop off right around age 30, when many women have children, and basically flattens out at age 39. Other evidence shows that working women with children make less than women without kids, while having children actually boosts men’s wages.

The wage gap is also nearly impossible to avoid. A woman makes less than a man no matter how much education she gets, what industry she enters, what job she chooses, or where she lives. She will even earn less even if she makes it to the very highest position possible: CEO. The public generally recognizes that there is a problem: more than half say that that if a man and a woman do the same work, the man will generally earn more. While some of the wage gap can be explained by things such as work patterns, job tenure, race, and marital status, some of it just can’t be explained by different life choices or characteristics and instead is likely thanks to discrimination.

In fact, the Pew report finds that nearly 20 percent of women report having experienced gender discrimination on the job, and of those, half say it had a negative impact on their career, most of them saying it had a “big” impact. One in ten of survey respondents said that women were paid less than men at their workplace.

And even life choices may not be a fair way to explain the wage gap. Mothers are three times as likely as fathers to say being a working parent has made it harder to advance at work. The Pew report also shows that far more women than men have adjusted their careers to care for children or other family members. More than half of working mothers with kids under 18 have taken a significant amount of time off, compared to just 16 percent of fathers. More than 40 percent of women with children of any age have reduced their hours to care for someone during their working life, but just 28 percent of men fathers have done the same. More stark, 27 percent of mothers say they have quit a job for family reasons. Just 10 percent of men have had to do the same. What all these choices show is that when it comes to finding a way to balance work and family — an increasingly expensive and challenging problem — it’s women who are stuck with the sacrifices.

Faced with all of these odds, it’s perhaps not surprising that young women in the Pew survey are pessimistic about workplace equality. Among Millennials, or those ages 18 to 32, three-quarters of women say the country needs to keep making changes to achieve greater equality. For their part, less than 60 percent of Millennial men say the same. (This is true generally of women and men of all ages: 72 percent of women say more needs to be done versus 61 percent of men.) Half of Millennial women say society favors men over women. And about two-thirds of this generation, men and women alike, think having children will make it harder for them to advance at work. This may sadly prove to be more true for women than for men.