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Women More Likely to Earn College Degrees but Wage Gap Remains

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Although more women than men are attending college and earning degrees, a considerable wage gap remains between the sexes. According to a new White House report focusing on women in the workplace, women earn an average of 75% as much as their male counterparts.

First Comprehensive Report on Women in Nearly 50 Years

Released on March 1, 2011 to kick off Women’s History Month, Women In America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being is the first comprehensive federal report on the status of women in almost 50 years. The White House Council on Women and Girls was created by President Barack Obama in early 2009 to enhance, support and coordinate the efforts of existing programs for women and girls. The data used for the study was collected from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, National Center for Education, National Center for Health and the National Center for Science and Engineering.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the last similar report was issued by the White House Commission on Women, formed by President John F. Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1963.

American Women: Earning More Degrees and Less Money

Forbes blogger Meghan Casserly posted a list of interesting Women in America report highlights on March 1:

  • Young women are now more likely than young men to have a college degree, but whatever their level of education, women earn about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. At all levels of education, women earned about 75% of what their male counterparts earned in 2009.
  • Women’s college degrees are on the rise. In 2007-2008 women earned about 57% of all degrees and constituted 57% of total enrollment. However, they earn less than half of all bachelor’s degrees in mathematical and physical sciences and 20% of computer and engineering degrees.
  • In 2009, nearly one-fifth of all women were employed in just five occupations: secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers, and nursing aides.
  • Women are more likely to live in a state of poverty than men. In 2009, 28% or working women with children who were unmarried had incomes below the poverty line.

Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard University, says there’s no question that women’s economic status has increased over the years. “Their education is phenomenally higher. Their earnings are higher. They appear to have fewer barriers and constraints,” she is quoted by the Wall Street Journal Market Watch. Despite the impressive education and employment gains, the earnings gap remains.

Valerie Jarrett, White House counselor and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, calls the 2011 report “a guidepost to help us move forward,” and also says the data will affect future policy decisions.

CNN Politics reports that Jarrett spoke with reporters via conference call the day the report was released.“I think it will inform a wide variety of different policy in programs that the federal government will either initiate or continue but it will be evidence-based,” she said. “(We’ll) look at those programs and how they fit together to improve the quality of lives of women as a whole rather than looking at it in a silo.”

Better Representation from Women in Politics and STEM Careers

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, believes that more representation from women in U.S. politics is needed. “There is a huge disconnect between the values of our country, and the policies,” O’Neill told Market Watch.

Groups such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) are working toward equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. The vision of their National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) is to bring together organizations that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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