These College Majors Lead to the Biggest Gender Pay Gaps

Posted By Terri Williams on May 2, 2017 at 7:40 am
These College Majors Lead to the Biggest Gender Pay Gaps

To our readers: Today GoodCall® concludes a two-part look at the gender pay gap and where it pops up. On Monday, writer Terri Williams reported about how the gap persists in three professions you might not expect – among dentists, physicians and lawyers. Now Terri examines the college majors that lead to the largest gender pay gaps within five years of graduation.


A new Glassdoor study reveals the college majors leading to positions with the largest gender pay gaps five years after graduation. But there’s a twist: Sometimes it turns out that half a decade after graduating, women earn more than men in certain occupations.

The following chart compares the median base salaries for the college majors with the largest gender pay gaps:

Women Men Gap
Healthcare administration $40,000 $51,250 22%
Mathematics $49,182 $60,000 18%
Biology $40,000 $46,000 13%
Human resources $44,222 $50,000 11.60%
Health sciences $40,000 $45,000 11.10%
Biomedical engineering $53,450 $60,000 10.90%
Industrial engineering $58,000 $65,000 10.80%
Business $45,500 $50,000 10.00%
Marketing $45,000 $50,000 10.00%
Exercise science $40,000 $44,232 9.60%


The next chart identifies the median base salaries for the college majors with the largest reverse gender pay gaps:

Women Men Gap
Architecture $57,000 $50,000 -14.00%
Music $44,020 $40,000 -10.10%
Social work $40,640 $37,500 -8.40%
Advertising $46,500 $43,020 -8.10%
Environmental science $47,000 $44,000 -6.80%
Chemical engineering $63,770 $60,480 -5.40%
Kinesiology $43,000 $41,000 -4.90%
Mechanical engineering $68,000 $66,040 -3.00%
Sports management $42,672 $42,000 -1.60%
Anthropology $41,250 $40,640 -1.50%

Accounting for the differences in college majors

Although the second chart reveals that women may earn more than men in some occupations, remember that this is five years after graduation. Lisa Kaess, founder & producer of Feminomics, isn’t convinced this is cause for celebration. She notes that the monthly CPS survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that on average and across the board, men make more than women. “There might be anomalies: for example, female musicians may earn more than men in the Glassdoor survey because more of them work as teachers and instructors versus men, who might work as part time players or set musicians – and the big-time players are probably not getting gigs by submitting resumes online.”

Regarding the female social workers, Kaess says, “It may also be that some of the female social workers in the Glassdoor survey have more seniority or work in higher paying regions than the men.” And she says that in places like New York and Washington D.C., young professional women do sometimes out earn their male peers. “These are also areas more likely to be subject to federal and other regulatory scrutiny – though so far, this pay differential often reverses as they move up.”

Factors that determine pay

A study by Aspasia Bizopoulou, a researcher at The University of Edinburgh, reveals that in European countries, almost 50% of the gender pay gap resulting in men making more than women with the same job title is based on several work-related factors. “Using data developed by the OECD for 9 European countries, we find that there exists consistent segregation in the type of daily activities performed by men and women doing the same job,” Bizopoulou tells GoodCall®. “More specifically, men are observed to spend more time than women in high value tasks that appear to increase wages across all occupations, whether high or lower-skilled.”

So, what type of work would influence pay differences? According to Bizopoulou, “These activities are communication tasks such as giving presentations, negotiating and planning others’ timetables, and numeracy tasks such as working with spreadsheets.” She says such occupations as accounting associate professionals, accounting clerks, and retail sales assistants have the highest levels of task segregation.

Women may also make lifestyle choices that determine how much they get paid. Amelia Gandomi Lewis, M.S., CEC, executive coach and owner of Chicago-based Advance Yourself, tells GoodCall® that more college-educated women are entering all fields, and they’re waiting longer to have children. A recent survey reveals that the boss plays a role in when many millennial women start a family because they’re concerned about losing out on promotions, which also lead to pay increases.

Lewis says a lot of her executive coaching clients are women and they struggle with placing an accurate value on their work and contributions to the organization. “This affects their confidence to ask for raises and titles that they actually deserve,” Lewis explains.  When men may also struggle with this problem, she says they are more likely to overcome these feelings and take action.

“On the flip side, women are often negatively scored for being too ambitious, career oriented or direct, and it makes that glass ceiling very hard to push through.” Lewis believes that men in power need to actively advocate for gender equality.

Another factor in the gender pay gap is the choice of college major. However, Kaess says this ignores personal and workplace biases. “After all, previously male-dominated professions saw salaries decline when women entered in numbers, and a Harvard Business School article noted how salaries for biology majors in science and HR in corporate world have declined — as women entered these fields in larger numbers – and prestige fell.”

Kaess also points to films such as Hidden Figures that show how early computer programmers were primarily women and the pay was low, but when men took over, salaries increased and women were sidelined, leading many to ask what happened to women in computer science.  “It is time we all – and that includes women – confront our biases and choices as a society which penalizes women for their roles as parents and professionals, while allowing most men to get a free pass,” Kaess says.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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