Having a degree does not immunise women against the gender pay gap; in fact, the more time that elapses after graduation, the greater the pay gap. The type of degree also has a bearing on earnings – those with degrees in creative subjects or design, in both sexes, earn lower amounts overall, while those who studied medicine, including dentistry, earn far more.
The Department for Education (DfE) published its data one week before the publication of the overall gender pay gap figures, which reveal that the pay gap is continuing to rise.
The figures published for the financial year 2015/16 indicate that women earn an average of £18,300 a year after graduating compared with £19,000 for men. Three years after graduation, the figures stand at £21,800 for women compared with £24,000 for men. By five years after graduation, the difference is even greater – £24,500 for women versus £27,800 for men.
By the time ten years have elapsed, the difference averages £8,000, with male average earnings at £35,100 compared with £27,100 for women. These figures average 14 per cent higher for men, compared with a 12 per cent difference in 2014/15.
Interestingly, it seems that women are more likely to stay in education for longer than men or to be in work for longer. It is probably understandable that women would stay working for longer if they spend longer studying, perhaps for pension or other financial reasons; however, the data does not offer an explanation as to why they would stay in education for longer.
One of the suggested reasons for the difference in pay is that women are more likely to be in part-time work than men. This makes sense once women have started a family; however, the figures indicate that the pay gap starts as soon as they graduate, which is harder to explain as most women do not start having children this early.
Anecdotally, men seem to be far better at negotiating salaries than women, with women tending to take whatever is offered. Men are more likely to play hardball to get a better starting salary and to negotiate better pay rises once they are in a job. Do men get better pay rises because employers value negotiation skills and are women just not taught these skills, or do they come naturally to men?
Whatever the reasons, the figures do not look good for gender equality. The DfE also reports variations in ethnic groups’ pay after graduation, with Chinese graduates earning most by ten years after graduation compared with graduates from other Asian backgrounds.
Overall, it seems that more research into the reasons behind these pay variations needs to be undertaken to be able to do something about it.
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