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College Poll: Female Students Expect Lower Earnings than Men

A national survey of more than 750 graduating college seniors conducted by a Duquesne University economics professor shows that female students expect to earn less than their male counterparts in the next year, and the anticipated earning gap grows even more pronounced by the end of three years.

These findings are part of an inaugural study known as the Collegiate Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Survey and Index. The survey is intended to capture a snapshot of economic expectations of college graduates as they are poised to enter the work force, and an index of economic expectation will enable year-to-year comparisons on a combination of indicators.

While other studies have surveyed the nation’s economic picture, none focuses on graduating students’ economic expectations, said Dr. Charles Wilf, assistant professor of economics at Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration. By continuing the survey annually, Wilf and his undergraduate economics students plan to spot and track trends in career expectations, anticipated spending habits, credit, debt and other indicators.

A breakdown of earnings expectations by gender showed that 51 percent of the women polled expected to earn $30,000 or less in the next year, compared with 35 percent of the men. At the same time, only 12 percent of the women expected to earn more than $50,000 in their first year on the job, compared with 24 percent of the men.

Salary expectations for the next three years showed an even sharper divide along gender lines. Only 38 percent of the females, compared with 59 percent of the males, expect to be earning $50,000-plus by the end of three years.

Female students surveyed were clustered in social sciences and education majors, which typically earn less than the computer science and engineering fields more often selected by males, Wilf said. Still, the expectation variation was significant.

“Despite decades of talk about gender equality and the fact that a majority of U.S. undergraduate students are female, women’s income expectations have not transcended stereotypes,” Wilf said. “Exactly why this perception persists is not yet clear.”

Other selected findings of the Collegiate SEER Survey and Index include:

  • Job prospects. Overall, students are positive about their employment prospects. Sixty-five percent believe their prospects in their chosen careers are good or very good. Yet, they are not as optimistic for their classmates. Only 36 percent believe career prospects are good or very good for all seniors.
  • Political correlation. Students’ career outlooks fell along party lines.

Republicans were the most optimistic, ranking their own prospects as good or very good (72 percent); 44 percent rated their classmates’ prospects as good or very good. Those who claimed to be “other” than Republican or Democrat held the most pessimistic outlook. Just over half, 56 percent, ranked their career prospects as good or very good; about one-third (34 percent) ranked their classmates’ prospects as good or very good. About 66 percent of the Democrats polled felt their job prospects were good or very good, but only 33 percent thought their classmates’ prospects were good or very good.

  • Preparation. Overall, 74 percent of the students surveyed felt their major prepared them well or very well. However, Wilf pointed out that nearly one student of every four does not feel primed for the workplace in their chosen careers, despite completing college coursework. Differences among majors were pronounced.

“The SEER Survey and Index provided us with some solid results for future comparisons of these issues and spending patterns,” Wilf said. “We hope to build on this base, creating data that will let us gauge how students’ economic perceptions change over time.”

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.