Female graduates' pay tops men's but wage gap starts to reverse from age 35

Graduates arrive for commencement at University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley on May 16, 2015.
Graduates arrive for commencement at University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley on May 16, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Women who recently graduated from college earn as much as or more than their male counterparts in 29 fields, ranging from engineering to art history, according to researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The reverse wage gap means women earned 16 per cent more than men in social services and 10 per cent more in industrial engineering jobs held by graduates between the ages of 22 and 27, the research showed.

The difference in pay between genders - women overall earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men - is also far smaller for newly minted college graduates. This group of women earns 97 cents for each dollar earned by men, the study showed.

The fields where women outpaced men the most in earnings were social services, with 16 per cent; treatment therapy, 11 per cent; industrial engineering, 10 per cent; and art history, with a 9 per cent gap. Women also outearned men in all other engineering disciplines, construction and business analytics, among other fields.

By the time they reach age 35 to 45, though, any advantage women had evaporates. Mid-career men earn 15 per cent more than their female peers.

In all 29 areas where women started out with equal or higher pay, "the wage premium that young women enjoy in these majors completely disappears, and males earn a more substantial premium in nearly every major," the researchers said.

The reasons for the shifting gaps aren't clear, the report said. They could be a result of discrimination, in either direction, or because of career interruptions among women who stop working when they have children, according to the study.

One reason for the disparity between the pay gap for young and mid-career women is that corporations have begun making more efforts to recruit women at the entry level, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business who studies corporate governance.

"When they recruit, there's a thirst for women and underrepresented minorities," he said, adding that the process is usually managed by human resources officials in line with a formal company policy.

When it comes to midcareer promotions, HR is less involved. "All the things that have worked against women, such as unconscious bias, can creep back in," Gordon said.

Discrimination against women with children is especially notable, said Pamela Stone, a sociology professor at Hunter College. "The motherhood penalty looms large," she said.