Pink-collar ghetto, here we come!

Study finds graduating women expect to earn less than men.

Published July 8, 2008 2:20PM (EDT)

If I had 77 cents for every time I heard the statistic that women earn 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make ... well, let's just say I would no longer need to save my pennies. Thankfully, the newest wage gap study has a bit more nuance to it. According to the Collegiate Seniors' Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Survey & Index, women who were about to graduate from college expected to earn less than men in their cohort. Only 35 percent of graduating men, compared with 51 percent of their female classmates, were planning on a first-year salary under $30,000 -- that is, less than a year's tuition at most private colleges.

SEER's authors aren't pinning the lion's share of blame for the disparity on men out-earning women in the same careers, though. Instead, they point out that, while male students tend to major in hard-science subjects, women favor the social sciences, which simply pay less. It's certainly nothing new that men tend to dominate computer and engineering fields, and though I wish it weren't so, it's not as if I'm doing anything to tip the balance. The only hard-science class I took in my undergrad days was called "The Planet Earth." You might know it as "Rocks for Jocks." So rather than scolding women for failing to flock to higher-paying careers, perhaps we should be wondering why the fields college-educated women dominate are so devalued in the first place.

As I was reading SEER's findings, something else occurred to me: What if female coeds are just more realistic in their post-baccalaureate expectations? It would be interesting to revisit these seniors a year out of college to see if their predictions hold true. I'm especially curious to see about the 24 percent of men and 12 percent of women who anticipate earning $50,000 or more within a year of graduation. Seems pretty optimistic, seeing as we're deep in the throes of a recession, doesn't it?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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