Higher Education and the Gender Earnings Gap

A recent StatsCan research paper by Marc Frenette and Simon Coulombe “Has Higher Education Among Young Women Substantially Reduced the Gender Gap in Employment and Earnings?” (Analytical Research Paper Series. June, 2007) contains some rather startling data.

The paper looks at employment and earnings for young men and women aged 25 to 29, in each of 1981, 1991, and 2001.

Over those years, the educational gap between young women and men continued to widen. The proportion of women in that age group with a university degree rose from 16.2%, to 19.1%, to 31.3%. The proportion of university-educated young male adults rose at a slower pace, from 15.5%, to 16.1%, to 26.1%.

The employment gap between university-educated young adult men and women has shrunk over this period. Most notably, the proportion of women working full-time has increased from 73.5%, to 75.2%, to 77.5% in 2001, compared to 86.3%, 83.4% and 84.8% among university- educated young adult men.

Despite progress in terms of educational attainment and obtaining full-time jobs, the pay gap between university-educated young women and young men exploded in the period from 1991 to 2001 (after narrowing between 1981 and 1991.) In 2001, university educated young adult women earned an average of $36,782, or 18.4% less than average earnings of $45,054 for comparable men.  This compares to a gap of 12.2% in 1991.

Between 1991 and 2001, average earnings of university- educated young women actually fell, from $37,066, while rising among comparable men, from $42,219 in 2001. (These are real or inflation-adjusted earnings, in year 2000 dollars.) Meanwhile, the earnings gap remained constant for college-educated and high school educated young adults.

The authors attribute much of this gap to the fact that university-educated women suffered pay cuts as a result of disproportionate employment in public sector health and education jobs, while men gained due to disproportionate employment in private sector jobs in engineering, computer science and commerce. The fact remains that it is young adult men who have had access to the best-paid jobs.

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