The Gender Wage Gap: College Majors & Money

By Maria Rainier

Single women rely on just one salary to support themselves, so it’s important to make that salary a big one. You don’t have the luxury of depending on a partner to make up the difference when your job falls short of paying life’s expenses. If you’re struggling to balance your budget each month, part of the problem may be in the past: research shows that the college degrees men choose tend to earn higher salaries than the ones that are traditionally chosen by women. The good news is that you can go back to school, earn a degree that’s been making money for men, and start earning your dream salary.

Men Choose High-Paying Majors

It may not be as simple as it looks, but OnlineDegrees.orghas compiled some interesting facts on the role of majors in the gender wage gap. You may have your reasons for choosing English over engineering, but it’s clear that the majors men choose tend to earn more than majors that are traditionally dominated by women. The highest-paying major dominated by men, for example, is aviation with a median salary of $123,228.48. However, if we look at the same picture for women, it’s a different story: the highest-paying major with 75% or more degrees going to women is public health, which pays a median salary of $60,065.12. That’s less than half of the aviation salary – not the most encouraging statistic for women. Even if you level the playing field and compare the average man’s salary to the average woman’s, the wage gap persists: the average man makes $11,543.74 more money each year.

More Women Earning Degrees, Fewer Women Earning Dough

Even though women earned 58% of all undergraduate degrees awarded in 2008, they’re earning less money on average than men. While it’s true that a college degree increases your chances of earning a good salary, that’s obviously not the end of the story. It matters which degree you choose, and it’s unlikely that women are getting all the information they need to make a good decision. Colleges make a profit no matter which major a student chooses, and often, they’re trying to keep unpopular departments open by encouraging students to join them. They aren’t going to dissuade anyone from pursuing a degree just because it’s associated with a low salary. It’s up to women to educate themselves about the median salaries of the majors they choose, and even if making money isn’t the top priority, it’s still important to earn a dependable salary.

The Breakdown: Top 10 Earning Majors

Out of the top ten highest-earning majors, none are dominated by women, which means that the degrees women choose are far lower in the salary hierarchy. In most cases, these high-paying majors are completely dominated by men – in 7 out of the top 10 majors, over 75% of the degrees go to men. These majors are aviation, aerospace engineering, computer engineering, engineering, nuclear engineering, information technology, and electrical engineering. The remaining three of the top 10 majors are roughly equalized between men and women: business administration, business, and economics. It’s obvious that engineering fields are dominated by men, so now it’s up to the ladies to change that.

© 2011 SingleMindedWomen.com All rights reserved. Permission to reprint this article must be obtained from SingleMindedWomen.com.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where she’s been looking into the data on the gender wage gap to see if it can be explained through women choosing lower paying degrees and men choosing higher paying degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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