One Possible Factor in the Gender Pay Gap? Your College Major

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Has anyone tried to tell you that nursing is for women? Or that engineering is for men?

Well, in case you didn’t know it already, let me be the first to tell you — they’re wrong.

Even still, young men and women seem to choose certain college majors, and subsequently certain career paths, which lead to in gender imbalances in many fields.

In a recent report, Glassdoor looked at the resumes of nearly 47,000 people who graduated between January 2010 and January 2017. It examined their college majors and early career paths and broke them down by gender.

The report found many college majors that lead to high-paying jobs in engineering and tech are male-dominated.

Meanwhile, women make up a higher percentage of graduates with social science and liberal arts degrees, which tend to lead to lower-paying jobs.

“Because men and women systematically sort into different college majors, they experience different early career paths, which pay differently,” Glassdoor reports.

According to the report, “this type of occupational sorting explains about 54 percent of the overall gender pay gap in the U.S.

The study found men dominated majors like:

  • Mechanical engineering: 89% male
  • Civil engineering: 83% male
  • Physics: 81% male
  • Computer science and engineering: 74% male
  • Electrical engineering: 74% male

On the other hand, women dominated majors like:

  • Social work: 85% female
  • Healthcare administration: 84% female
  • Anthropology: 80% female
  • Nursing: 80% female
  • Human resources: 80% female

The top five college majors leading to the highest salaries were all male-dominated ones (the salaries listed are the median base pay):

  • Computer science and engineering (74% male): $70,000
  • Electrical engineering (74% male): $68,438
  • Mechanical engineering (89% male): $66,040
  • Chemical engineering (69% male): $65,000
  • Information technology (68% male): $63,500

The top five majors leading to the lowest salaries were an even mix between male-dominated fields of study and female-dominated ones:

  • Criminal justice (52% male) $40,000
  • Kinesiology (62% male): $40,000
  • Exercise science (50% split): $40,640
  • Healthcare administration (84% female): $41,000
  • Social work (85% female): $41,000

The top three college majors where men outearn women are healthcare administration, mathematics and biology.

Men with a degree in healthcare administration earned an average of $51,250, while women with the same degree earned $40,000.

For those with a math degree, men earned $60,000 while women earned $49,182.

Male bio majors earned $46,000 while the female counterparts earned $40,000.

Still, men don’t take the advantage in every field. Female students who majored in architecture, music and social work ended up making more than male students with the same major.

Women with an architecture degree earned $57,000 while their male counterparts earned $50,000.

Female music majors earned $44,020 while men earned $40,000.

For those with a degree in social work, women earned $40,640 while men earned $37,500.

College Majors Don’t Tell the Whole Story

However, if you think the selection of college major alone is the sole source of future salary disparities, you’d be mistaken: graduates’ career paths also play an important role.

“One surprising finding is that even within the same college major, men and women tend to sort into different jobs — which pay differently — after college,” Glassdoor reports.

“For example, among women who major in biology, the most common three jobs after college are lab technician, pharmacy technician and sales associate,” the report says. “By contrast, the three most common jobs for male biology majors are lab technician, data analyst and manager.

“The fact that men are more likely to work as higher-paying data analysts or managers, while women are more likely to work in lower-paying roles as pharmacy technicians and sales associates, creates a gender pay gap, even for students with the same college major.”

Bottom line: Your college major is a big decision that could have long-standing effects on your career path, your lifetime earnings and even what lifestyle you’ll live.

How you use that degree is also vital. So choose wisely.

Your Turn: Was your college major dominated by one gender? Is your job?

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn the study found male journalism majors outearned their female counterparts, even though more women studied journalism than men.

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