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Expected Earning Gap Grows Even Wider Between Men, Women

This year’s graduating college seniors report markedly lower economic expectations overall than those who graduated last year, according to the Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Index compiled by a Duquesne University economics professor.

The female economic outlook is more pessimistic than the male perspective, said Dr. Charles Wilf, assistant professor of economics at Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration. In a repeat of last year’s SEER Index findings, women anticipate earning less than men in their first year after graduation. However, this year’s survey shows the expected income gap between genders widens at the three-year mark, compared with last year’s results.

Overall, 45 percent of the 749 students in the nationwide survey rate their overall employment prospects in their careers as “good or very good,” according to Wilf.  In last year’s survey, 65 percent of the participants provided a “good or very good” ranking.

A breakdown by gender shows that the “good or very good” ranking was given by 53 percent of the senior males but only 37 percent of the females this year, Wilf said.

As well as being less optimistic overall than men, women also anticipate earning less than men in the next year; 57 percent of the females expect to make $30,000 or less, compared to 37 percent of the males. Only 11 percent of the females, compared with 25 percent of the males, anticipate earning more than $50,000 in the next year.

Last year, 51 percent of the women polled and 35 percent of the men anticipated earning $30,000 or less, and 12 percent of the women, compared with 24 percent of the men, expected to earn more than $50,000.

The gender gap divide widened in a three-year projection of earnings. The poll shows 36 percent of the females, compared with 61 percent of the males, expect to earn more than $50,000—fewer women (38 percent) and more men (59 percent) than did last year.

“The gap between males and females in anticipated earnings might be expected to shrink at the three-year mark, but instead it grew,” Wilf said. “Females are less optimistic overall, and their earnings expectations may be related to their choice of majors and the jobs available to them when they graduate.”

For instance, the SEER figures show that females are five times more likely than males to enter education and one-and-a-half to two times as likely to be social science and liberal arts majors. Conversely, males are two to three times more likely than females to major in computer science and engineering, and one-and-a-half times more likely to hold degrees in business.

“As in the 2008 SEER survey, males continue to major in fields that traditionally pay more,” Wilf said. “Females’ scores for overall economic expectation were statistically identical in 2008 but are definitely down this year, showing increasingly lower economic expectation based on these career preferences.”

The SEER Index showed significant differences in economic expectations by political party affiliation and between regions in the United States, with Republicans less optimistic than they were last year, and the Northeast and Midwest reflecting a more pessimistic outlook than last year.

Duquesne’s SEER study, using data obtained in association with SurveyU, has an error margin of 4 percentage points, and also examined spending intentions for professional clothing and travel, as well as assessments of how well prepared students felt to enter their career fields.

This index is the first nationwide to focus on graduating students’ economic expectations, Wilf said. With a baseline set in last year’s inaugural survey, Wilf plans to continue spotting and tracking annual trends in career expectations, anticipated spending habits, credit, debt and other indicators.

Duquesne University

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