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March 1998, Vol. 121, No. 3

Earnings of college graduates: women compared with men

Daniel E. Hecker

Among college graduates aged 25 to 64, women’s median annual earnings were 73 percent of men’s in 1993. When median earnings of women are compared with those of men of a similar age and with similar levels of education, major fields of study, and occupational characteristics, however, the earnings gap narrowed progressively, although still spanning a wide range: in some cases, women earned nearly as much as, or even more than, men with the same characteristics, while in others, women earned much less. This article uses a 1993 National Science Foundation survey to examine the differences between the earnings of men and women graduates in order to answer the question, How much do women earn compared with men? The short answer to this question is that there are many answers to it: in some fields of study and occupations women do particularly well in relation to men, in others they do not fare so well, and in still others they are in between.
Data and methodology
In 1993, the National Science Foundation surveyed a sample of 215,000 persons under age 75 who reported in the 1990 census that they had a bachelor’s or higher degree as of April 1990.1 Survey sampling rates varied by occupation reported. Data on earnings are considered statistically reliable for scientific and technical major fields of study with an employment of about 3,000 or more and for nonscientific majors with about 6,000 or more. This article includes only data at that level of reliability.
Earnings data from the survey were available only for full-time wage and salary workers. In some occupations, many graduates were self-employed. For these occupations, and for the majors leading to them, the earnings shown may differ from the earnings of all graduates as a whole, and the comparisons between women and men also may differ. Among the occupations most affected in this manner are psychologists; lawyers; writers, artists, and entertainers; salesworkers, except retail; health professionals; and architects.

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1 Individuals who received a bachelor’s degree after April 1990 are not included. The survey is the largest one available that has collected detailed information about college graduates’ employment characteristics, such as earnings and occupation, by major field of study.

Related BLS programs
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey

Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Earnings of college graduates. December 1995.
Further analyses of the labor market for college graduates. February 1995.
Education and the work histories of young adults. April 1993.

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