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Equal Pay For Equal Work: Not Even College Helps Women

A startling new report finds freshly graduated college women will likely face this hurdle when entering the work world: they're worth less than equally educated men.

The American Association of University Women is releasing a new study that shows when men and women attend the same kind of college, pick the same major and accept the same kind of job, on average, the woman will still earn 82 cents to every dollar that a man earns.

The study, called Graduating to a Pay Gap, points out that job choices may initially explain the problem. For example, many women choose lower paying industries, such as teaching or social sciences, while men select jobs in science and technical industries, which pay more.

So, as the Washington Post notes, the authors tried to make everything as similar as possible. They tracked graduates with identical collegiate experiences, limited familiarity with the work world, and those who didn't have spouses or children.

But the wage gap persisted.

The study found that in teaching, female college graduates earned 89 percent of what men did. In business, women earned 86 percent compared to men. In sales occupations, women earned 77 percent of what men took home.

Why would equally educated women and men with similar life experiences bring home very different paychecks?

There are a few reasons cited. One is potential gender discrimination, according to the authors, who say more women are filing complaints about their work condition. "Experimental evidence confirms that many people continue to hold biases against women in the workplace, especially those who work in traditionally male fields."

There's another, intriguing reason that women could earn less: they don't like to negotiate their salaries, or they're unable to do so. "Negotiating a salary can make a difference in earnings, and men are more likely than women to negotiate their salaries. In part, this difference may reflect women's awareness that employers are likely to view negotiations by men more favorably than negotiations by women," the authors write.

The wage disparities mean women have more trouble paying bills, especially paying back college loans. In 2009, about 47 percent of women paid more than eight percent of earnings toward student loan debt compared with 39 percent of men, according to the AAUW. The authors say these numbers have gone up since then.

Journalism professor Michele Weldon nails the problem in an essay for al Jazeera. She's writing recommendation letters for several of her female students graduating from Northwestern University. While praising each student's achievements, Weldon is thinking of adding these lines to each letter:

"I respectfully request that you offer her the same salary as a male candidate with her qualifications. If your company already has this gender balanced practice, I applaud you for your fairness."

Among the AAUW authors' recommendations: Congress should adopt new laws beefing up federal equal pay laws. And they urge women to pay attention to their own life choices, and recognize the long term implications when they decide on college majors and professions.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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