Female STEM Ph.D. Holders Earning 31% Less Than Males, According to New Report

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on May 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm
Female STEM Ph.D. Holders Earning 31% Less Than Males, According to New Report

There’s no question the wage gap between men and women exists, but a new study from Ohio State University shows that even females with STEM-related PH.D. are getting paid as much as 31 percent less than their male counterparts.

Some of it can be attributed to the fields within science, technology, engineering and mathematics that women choose, but removing that, Ohio State researchers found there is still an 11 percent gap. It turns out whether women have children or not may account for the remaining wage gap in STEM fields, the study reveals.

“Women are more likely to be in biology, chemistry and health, and men are more likely to be in engineering, math and computer science,” says Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at The Ohio State University. “That explains 20 percentage points of the gap in earnings between men and women. We knew women weren’t compensated as much as men but the magnitude was something that impressed us.”

Weinberg, who conducted the study with Catherine Buffington and Benjamin Cerf of the U.S. Census Bureau and Christina Jones of the American Institutes for Research, looked at previously unavailable data on 1,237 students who earned Ph.D.’s from four U.S. universities from 2007 to 2010. The data included the federal funding support they received, the dissertations they wrote and U.S. Census data on where they worked and how much they earned a year after graduating. It also included data on marital and childbearing status.

Wage gap persists more so within STEM

The results demonstrated that even within STEM, there are big differences in the degrees women are pursuing and the ones men choose to go after. According to the researchers, women chose degrees in lower-paying fields, with 59 percent of them completing dissertations in biology, chemistry and health. Men were more than twice as likely to complete dissertations in engineering and 1.5 times more likely to study computer science, math or physics, all degrees with higher paying salaries attached to them.

Women are also choosing employers that tend to pay less, contributing to the wage gap. According to the report, women in the study were 13 percentage points less likely than men to work outside of academia and government, two areas that tend to pay less than public and private companies. But even when they did go to work in corporate America, the pay gap still existed and was even bigger than in an academic or government setting, says Weinberg.

Motherhood penalty a contributing factor to the wage gap

While a lot of the wage gap can be attributed to the degrees women in STEM are choosing, the remaining portion can be explained by women taking off time to raise a family, says Weinberg. “Take an identical man and woman, non-married without children, and women earn just a hair more than men,” says Weinberg.  “If they both have children the men don’t lose very much from having children but the woman does.” The penalty from having children is large with women with children earning “substantially” less than women without children, he says.

When it comes to why there is a motherhood penalty among female STEM Ph.D. holders, the reason tends to be twofold based on the research. On the one hand, women voluntarily choose to pull back from high stress high profile projects to focus on being a mother. But there’s also this bias, either intentional or unintentional on the part of the employer, who starts passing the woman up because she is pregnant or has children. “We don’t know from this data whether it’s one or the other. But we can say the way things are set up women either don’t want to continue in those pathways or businesses are feeling they won’t be able to,” says Weinberg. “It does suggest something about the family friendliness of these companies.”

Tech companies need to increase their inclusion, diversity

In order for the wage gap to narrow, women not only have to pursue more STEM degrees but they have to study engineering and computer technology within STEM to command the higher salaries. For that to happen, a more inclusive environment in technology companies across the country is required. While men tend to be favored in those engineering and tech jobs, initiatives like Project Include are working to bring more diversity to technology companies.

Project Include is focused on providing advice and tools so startups can create a diverse and inclusive environment, even on a shoe string budget. Erica Baker, an engineer and diversity advocate at Slack, a company that makes a messaging app for teams, and a leader of Project Include said at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt New York conference that it’s not a culture problem among technology companies but an exclusion problem that is leaving women and other underrepresented groups out of technology and engineering.  “We’re having this boom of startups right now and have to make sure those companies are diverse and inclusive when they grow to be the Facebooks and Googles. Their cultures will set the tone for the next wave,” Baker said at the confab.

Project Include’s recommendations for startups include transparency around salaries and bonuses. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 62 percent of women vs. 60 percent of men work for private employers where wage and salary information is secret.  What’s more, nearly two out of three (63 percent) single mothers say they work for employers who discourage or prohibit discussion of wage and salary information. “While there may be no direct link between pay secrecy and pay inequality, pay secrecy appears to contribute to the gender gap in earnings,” says Project Include.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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