Women earn less than male classmates

By Nicole Osuch
August 30, 2007

St. Paul Pioneer Press/ MCT

Hey, women. You’ve heard you earn less about 20 percent less than men, but you probably thought that applied only to older women who have kids and gaps in their resumes. Guess again. The guy sitting next to you in class will very likely earn a higher salary than you right away in your first jobs.

Within the first year after graduating, women working full-time earn 20 percent less on average than their male classmates, even when they have the same major and occupation, according to the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

Why do women earn less?

Women’s advocacy organizations are often quick to blame discrimination, but it might be because women don’t negotiate for a higher salary whereas men do. In a series of experiments conducted by Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, men are four times more likely to negotiate their salaries than women.

Jillian Milam graduated with a degree in English and communication from Cabrini College in May 2007 and now works as a business development assistant.

“My initial reaction was to go ahead and negotiate no matter what because what was to lose? Then I started second-guessing myself because first, I was new to the whole idea of accepting an offer, and secondly, because I knew the salary was reasonable. I felt I didn’t have a strong argument to go in there and ask for more money, which is ultimately why I chose not to negotiate.”

Babcock speculates that women do not negotiate because society has raised women to accept what is offered to them and not push the envelope. However, the study showed that women who do negotiate were usually successful.

There are also social consequences when women negotiate. For example, when women negotiate they can jeopardize getting hired because they may come across as being too aggressive and difficult to work with. Dr. Terlecki, a psychology professor, said, “If you are a woman and are too aggressive, employers don’t want you. If you are a male, employers want you to be aggressive. If you’re a male and a pushover they don’t want you.”

According to Babcock, her studies found that women described being more anxious than men about negotiating.

Katherine Brachelli, who graduated with a degree in English and communication from Cabrini College in May 2007 and now works as a writer /project coordinator agreed with Babcock’s findings.

Brachelli said that women feel intimidated when it comes to negotiating for their first jobs. Brachelli did not negotiate, but said she would feel more confident next time she interviewed.

Not negotiating can correlate to huge financial setbacks. As a result of women not negotiating even once, Babcock explains that can mean losses of about a half a million dollars over their careers in lost earnings. For a woman graduating from an MBA program, the losses are even greater. There are about $1.5 million in lost earnings over the course of their careers.

Terlecki explained women have always gotten paid less and it is a difficult cycle to break. She said that women might need to just take the risk and negotiate because it is not wrong for women to be upfront about income because pay is something that is discussed. Negotiating does not mean you will loose the job offer.

“The moment I handed in the letter of acceptance, I regretted not trying. Unless I felt that the actual offer would have been threatened by asking for more money, I should have at least tried,” Milam said.

Looking back, Milam said, “Even though recent grads are new to accepting offers, we need to realize that it is a game everyone in the business world plays.

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Nicole Osuch

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