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SEER Poll: College Graduates’ Anticipated Earnings Vary Widely by Gender

Despite Overall Uptick in Economic Expectations, Women Less Optimistic

For the second consecutive year, the gap in expected earnings has widened between female and male college graduates, according to a national survey conducted by Duquesne University researchers.

The 2010 Collegiate Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Survey and Index shows that while the overall economic expectation index for all graduates has risen to 65 from 62 in 2009, expected income gaps continue to increase by gender.

Sixty percent of the females surveyed expected to earn $30,000 or less in their first year after graduation from college, compared with only 27 percent of the males polled.

In the 2009 survey, 57 percent of the females and 37 percent of the males anticipated earning $30,000 or less. In 2008, SEER’s base line year, 51 percent of the females and 25 percent of the males anticipated earning less than $30,000.

Earnings projected three years into the future indicated an even sharper divide by gender. For 2010, a lower percentage of female students (34 percent vs. 36 percent in 2009) and a higher percent of male students (70 percent vs. 61 percent in 2009) anticipated earning more than $50,000 three years from now.

While some may see traditional gender bias in the results, a more likely reason for the different expectations might be the wages associated with different fields, said Dr. Charles Wilf, assistant professor of economics, who directed the survey of 780 students nationwide in conjunction with YouthPulse Inc. and Duquesne undergraduate research assistants Laura Vicinie and Kaitlyn Wolf.

Women account for about 70 percent of the majors in liberal arts, social science, nursing and natural science, Wilf said. Men account for 70 percent or more of the majors in economics, computer science, mathematics and engineering—fields that typically carry high entry-level earning power.

Other major 2010 SEER findings include:

  • Less employment optimism from women. Even amid increased economic optimism among this year’s graduating college seniors, women continued to be less optimistic about their employment possibilities than men.  While 61 percent of the men surveyed felt their prospects for jobs in their fields are good or very good, only 39 percent of the women felt likewise.
  • Statistically significant differences in career expectations by political party affiliation. In the three years that the SEER survey has been conducted, Republicans have been consistently more optimistic than Democrats or other political party affiliates.
  • Some concerns about preparation. While almost 70 percent of graduating seniors felt their college major had prepared them well or very well, 20 percent had no strong feelings about the quality of their preparation and fully 10 percent felt poorly or very poorly prepared for their chosen careers.

“Perhaps coursework alone is no longer enough for students to feel well-prepared to enter the workforce,” Wilf said. “Universities may need to become more proactive earlier in their students’ academic careers in terms of internships or other professional linkages.”

  • Anticipated major purchases, such as clothing, investments and travel all rose compared with 2009 levels but remained below 2008 levels.
  • Finally, when asked about their overall employment prospects two years down the road, almost two-thirds projected improvement, while only 3 percent expect things to worsen.

“I’m encouraged by this finding—and attribute it to the perennial optimism of youth,” Wilf said.

The Collegiate SEER Survey and Index is the only national index of graduating students’ economic expectations as they are poised to enter the workforce, Wilf said. This year’s annual survey of graduating college seniors, ages 21 to 24, was taken during April and May, and did not include students planning to attend graduate school. The margin of error for this index is 3.5 percentage points.

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.