Science jobs urged to ease pay disparity

Times Staff Writer

Although women have made significant gains in education and income during the last three decades, the pay gap between college-educated men and women persists, experts say.

A new report to be released today by the American Assn. of University Women sheds light on what is holding many female graduates back -- and what they can do to catch up.

The gender gap will remain until more women pursue careers in science and engineering, women become tougher negotiators, and employers do more to accommodate the needs of mothers with young children, said Catherine Hill, research director for the Washington-based group that promotes education equity.

“We also need to take a hard look at sex discrimination in the workplace, which is affecting young women just as it affected their mothers and grandmothers,” she said.


Previous studies have found that more women than men are earning college degrees and that the salaries of college-educated women have risen much faster than those of male graduates.

Still, like other researchers, Hill and her colleagues found that an income gap persists.

Analyzing U.S. Department of Education data on 19,000 men and women, Hill’s team found that one year out of college, women in 1994 earned 80% of what their male counterparts made. By 2003, a decade after graduation, they had fallen further behind, to 69% of men’s incomes.

Controlling for the number of hours worked, parenthood and other factors, college-educated women still earned 12% less than their male peers, according to the report.

Students’ individual choices explain part of the gap, Hill said. Engineering and computer science majors typically command higher salaries than those with education or English degrees. Yet those technical fields still draw fewer women than men nationwide -- 18% of undergraduate engineering majors and 39% of mathematics majors were women in 2000, according to the Department of Education.

Even among those with the same technical degree, such as mathematics, female graduates often become teachers, earning less than men who move into industry, Hill said.

The authors urge colleges to do more to encourage women to consider scientific and technological majors and to aim for higher-paying jobs in those fields.

Jim Case, who heads the career center at Cal State Fullerton, said the key is to communicate the “sheer joy of invention and creativity” in fields that may seem dry and abstract.

Hill’s study also advises female job seekers to drive tougher bargains on pay and responsibilities, and urges employers to offer high-quality part-time jobs to accommodate working mothers.

The findings are consistent with analyses of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, said Jean Ross, executive director of California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based nonprofit research group.

In a study released in March, Ross found that the median hourly pay for California men with a bachelor’s degree was $31.03 in 2006 while women with the same degree earned $24.75.

The pay gap is narrowest among workers without a high school degree; those women earn 84.1% of men’s salaries. In that group, Ross said, women’s earnings have risen while men’s have declined slightly, reflecting the concentration of women in fast-growing sectors such as healthcare and financial services, and the continuing decline in manufacturing jobs long dominated by men.

Hill and her colleagues argue that tougher legislation is needed to erase the pay gap. The American Assn. of University Women is backing two bills before Congress that would require equal pay for comparable but not identical jobs, and eliminate provisions allowing some employers to discipline workers who discuss their wages with co-workers.

“Legislation has made a difference in the past,” Hill said. It wasn’t so long ago that law schools and medical schools could bar women from enrolling, she said, or fire women who became pregnant. “That’s no longer true.”