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For First Time in Four Years, Gender Gap Narrows in Graduates’ Earning Expectations

For the first time in its four-year history, the Duquesne University Collegiate SEER Survey and Index, which surveys economic expectations of new college graduates nationwide, shows a narrower gap in earning prospects between male and female college graduates.

The Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Index survey, conducted by Dr. Charles Wilf, assistant professor of quantitative science in A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration at Duquesne, provides a national snapshot of how graduating college seniors see their roles in the U.S. economy as they prepare to enter the work force. The index, which could range from a low of 20 to a high of 100 based on students’ perceptions, is at 66, up 1 point from 2010. However, while men’s expectations were flat from last year to now, the women’s expectation level rose 4 points.

Overall, income expectations are lower than in 2010, both for these graduates’ immediate futures and their three-year projections. This is also the first time the SEER study has seen a decline from one year to the next. Men continue to anticipate higher earnings now and in the future but for the first time, the SEER Index shows that a growing number of female graduates expects to earn more than $50,000 in their first year on the job.

Overall 45 percent of graduating seniors expect to earn $30,000 or less in the next year, a 2 percent increase from 2010. Examined by gender, more than half of the females and one-third of the males surveyed expected to fit this earning category. But 30 percent of the males (down from 38 percent in 2010) and a record 11 percent of females (up from 8 percent) anticipated earning more than $50,000 in their first year of work.

“Females are telling us pretty systematically that they expect to make more, and some males expect to be in the lower end,” Wilf said. Even though this narrowed gap means that three times as many men are confident of making more than $50,000 in three years than women are, Wilf said.

Even though this narrowed gap means that three times as many men are confident of making more than $50,000 in three years than women are, Wilf said, “It’s the closest we’ve seen.”

As might be expected, a student’s major impacts estimated earning power. Females are predominately graduating with degrees in nursing, social science, education, liberal arts, natural science and performing arts, many of them lower-paying fields. The business field is more evenly divided by gender. More men than women are in mathematics, economics, computer science and engineering, typically landing higher-paying jobs.

In the long-term, this year’s graduates expressed less confidence than last year’s. Overall, 19 percent of the graduates—4 percent less than last year—expected to earn more than $50,000 next year. In three years, 35 percent of females (up only slightly from 34 percent in 2010) and 63 percent of the males (down from 70 percent in 2010) expect to be earning more than $50,000.

“A long-term fear and uncertainty is definitely something we see this year,” Wilf said.

A smaller percentage of students (56 vs. 64 percent in 2010) likewise expect their employment prospects to improve over the next two years.

On average, 52 percent of the graduating seniors rated their personal career prospects as good or very good, with nursing, computer science and mathematics majors being the most confident, and liberal arts, social science and education being the least confident.

The SEER Index also tracked students’ anticipated loan repayment schedules, which vary by gender and major. More students have loans this year than last (58 percent compared with 50 percent in 2010), though more are expecting to pay off the loans more quickly. More women than men are anticipating longer payoffs in 6 to 10+ years. Of all majors, computer science graduates were most confident that they would repay loans within 5 years.

Besides looking at earnings projections and loan repayment, the SEER Index examines individual and class employment prospects, how well students feel their college majors have prepared them for their careers (education majors felt the best prepared, mathematicians the worst), and their outlook on investments, business clothing spending and travel.

The 2011 SEER® Survey and Index, conducted by Wilf and three undergraduate researchers in conjunction with YPulse, a New York-based youth research and marketing firm, surveyed 1,114 graduating seniors from 47 states and the District of Columbia who intended to obtain employment. The margin of error is ± 3 percent. Seniors enrolling in graduate school are not included.

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.