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Monday, April 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gender pay gap emerges early, study finds

NEW YORK — A dramatic pay gap emerges between women and men in America the year after they graduate from college and widens over the ensuing decade, according to research released today.

One year out of college, women working full time earn 80 percent of what men earn, according to the study by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.

Ten years later, women earn 69 percent as much as men earn, it said.

Even as the study accounted for such factors as the number of hours worked, occupations or parenthood, the gap persisted, researchers said.

"If a woman and a man make the same choices, will they receive the same pay?" the study asked. "The answer is no.

"These unexplained gaps are evidence of discrimination, which remains a serious problem for women in the work force," it said.

Specifically, about one-quarter of the pay gap is attributable to gender, the study concluded.

One year out of college, men and women should arguably be the least likely to show a gender pay gap, the study said, since neither tend to be parents yet and they enter the work force without significant experience.

"It surprised me that it was already apparent one year out of college, and that it widens over the first 10 years," said Catherine Hill, director of research for the association.

Among factors found to make a difference in pay, the choice of fields of concentration in college was significant, the study found. Female students tended to study areas with lower pay, such as education, health and psychology, while male students dominated higher-paying fields such as engineering, mathematics and physical sciences, it said.

Even so, one year after graduation, a pay gap turned up between women and men who studied the same fields.

In education, women earn 95 percent as much as their male colleagues earn, while in math, women earn 76 percent as much as men earn, the study showed.

While in college, the study showed, women outperformed men academically, and their grade-point averages were higher in every college major.

Parenthood affected men and women in vividly different ways. The study showed mothers were more likely than fathers, or other women, to work part time or take leaves.

Among women who graduated from college in 1992-93, more than one-fifth of mothers were out of the work force a decade later, and an additional 17 percent were working part time, it said.

In the same class, less than 2 percent of fathers were out of the work force in 2003, and less than 2 percent were working part time, it said.

The study, titled "Behind the Pay Gap," used data from the U.S. Department of Education. It analyzed about 9,000 college graduates from 1992-93 and more than 10,000 from 1999-2000.

The gender gap will remain until more women pursue careers in science and engineering, women become tougher negotiators, and employers do more to accommodate the needs of mothers with young children, Hill said.

Hill and her colleagues argue that tougher legislation also is needed to erase the pay gap. The association is backing two bills before Congress that would require equal pay for comparable but not identical jobs, and eliminate provisions allowing some employers to discipline workers who discuss their wages with a co-worker.

"Legislation has made a difference in the past," Hill said, noting that it wasn't so long ago that law schools and medical schools could bar women from enrolling and companies could fire women who became pregnant. "That's no longer true," she said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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