Top Degree Is No Guarantee of Equal Pay for Women


Women all over the U.S. began working for free in late October. Whether they never graduated high school or have an Ivy League education, that’s the reality for working women in this country.

The gender pay gap is real, and is so wide that it equates to females in the workforce not collecting a paycheck for about 10 weeks each year. While some try to write off the pay difference as part of choices made by women in the job market, it’s clear there is more at work here than “occupational sorting,” as it’s called.

Nowhere is that clearer then when it comes to women holding degrees from elite institutions. To most, it would seem female graduates of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities would be immune to such a predicament. But a report by the think tank New America found that those attending the country’s elite schools actually have the biggest gap, earning an average of $85,000 a year less than their male peers. By comparison, the gap for graduates of non-selective four-year public colleges and universities is only $15,000 a year.

Not surprisingly, such wage differences between the sexes continues on when it comes to retirement savings. Women, it turns out, are 80 percent more likely than men to be living in poverty at age 65 and above. That has led to a higher percentage of women in the workforce as they approach retirement age. But those extra years in the workforce are no guarantee of economic stability for females – the gap between the genders living in poverty actually increases to three times as many women between ages 75 and 79.

Let’s face it, part of the reason women in the workplace fall behind is because they are far-and-away the caregivers of their families. They miss work to watch young children, elderly parents and others. And many times they are punished for it in the workplace, either forced to go without pay or overlooked for promotions because of it.

That’s why policies like the one set to go into place in New York beginning next year is so important. The new paid family leave policy will allow workers – all workers – to take time off to care for loved ones. The Empire State will become the fifth state to do so.

But such changes don’t address the heart of the gender wage gap problem. There is an unexplained difference in pay between the sexes, and it is even greater for women of color. Economists, employers and elected officials must come together to identify the issues and root out any discrimination in the workplace.