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Women overwhelmingly choose less lucrative majors than men, new data show

Do women really earn less than men, and is that a result of discrimination – or simply what they choose to study?

University of Michigan-Flint Economics Prof. Mark Perry compared findings from a recent Glassdoor report on the “50 highest paying college majors” to U.S. Department of Education data on bachelor’s degrees awarded to men and women by “field of study.”

The match wasn’t perfect – the feds’ data is from the 2013-2014 academic year, and its fields of study (say, “engineering”) are much broader than Glassdoor’s list of majors (like electrical or chemical engineering), so Perry had to narrow down his data to 40 majors reported by Glassdoor.

But the results are clear. Women represent 57 percent of degree holders from 2014, but they pick lower-paying fields, Perry writes for the American Enterprise Institute:

For example, in 8 out of the 10 highest-paying college majors — various Engineering fields, Computer Science and MIS — men represented more than 80% of the college graduates in those fields. The only college major of the top ten where women are over-represented is Nursing, a field where 84.4% of the bachelor’s degrees in 2014 were awarded to women.

For the top ten highest-paying college majors as a group, men earn an average of 72% of the bachelor’s degrees in those fields. For the top 20 college majors, men earn an average of nearly two-thirds of those degrees; for the top 30, the male average is 60.5% and for the top 50 (actually only 40 majors are considered), the average for men is 53.7% of degrees.

Perry’s conclusion is that women should stop majoring in “feminist dance therapy” if they want bigger paychecks:

The raw gender wage gap doesn’t exist because employers discriminate against women in the labor market as much as it reflects voluntary and personal choices of both men and women in terms of college majors, careers, the number of hours worked, and family roles and responsibilities.

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