The Gender Pay Gap For Women With STEM Ph.D.s Is Particularly Horrendous, Says Study, Proving Yet Again That It's Not Just A Myth

MAUN, BOTSWANA - JUNE 12: A young schoolgirl smiles during a Coaching for Conservation class on June 12, 2010 in Maun, Botswana. Supported by the Tusk Trust (of which HRH Prince William is a patron), the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust is led by husband and wife team Tico McNutt PhD and Lesley Boggs MA. Founded in 1989, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) has expanded to cover all the large carnivore species in Botswana and is one of the longest running large predator research projects in Africa. Two other key initiatives the BPCT is involved in are a community initiative with local schools and supported by the Tusk Trust called 'Coaching for Conservation' as well as a ground breaking project looking at artificial scent markers called 'The Bioboundry Project'. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
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Women being paid less than men is one of those annoyingly pervasive things, and as it happens the gender pay gap also affects women with STEM Ph.D.s. A new study found that even women with doctorate degrees in STEM fields earn 31 percent less than their male counterparts a mere year after graduation. Because scientific standards about being fair and impartial don't seem to apply to personnel decisions, I guess. 

In a study published this week in American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, researchers looked at over 1,200 recent Ph.D. recipients from four research universities. They found that just a year after graduation, women are earning 31 percent less than their male counterparts. But what's causing it? About two thirds of this gap, researchers say, could be explained by the fact that women are more likely to pick lower-paying specialities, like biology as opposed to engineering. Of course, previous research has found that fields tend to become lower-paying when women enter them, meaning it might not be that women "just happen" to pick less lucrative fields, but rather that these careers are lower-paying precisely because women have been successfully able to break into them. 

Researchers also found that women who are married with children are paid significantly less than their unmarried or childless counterparts, but the exact reason why is still unclear. 

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"Our results show a larger child-gap in salary among women Ph.D.s than among men,"  Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study said. "We can't tell from our data what's going on there. There's probably a combination of factors. Some women may consciously choose to be primary caregivers and pull back from work. But there may also be some employers putting women on a 'mommy track' where they get paid less."

Indeed, other research has also found that the idea that women voluntarily choose the "mommy track" is more myth than reality. Workers with children are actually not less effective than workers without children, but employees — especially women — who have kids and who might also take maternity leave or who ask for more flexible schedules are often taken less seriously. 

So what does all this mean for women in STEM? Well, for one thing, it's worth pointing out that a gap of 31 percent is way larger than the 20 to 25 percent gap that exists in the workforce overall. And, if te trends from the overall pay gap carry over to this slightly more specific one, women of color might make even less. It's also glaringly obvious that getting an advanced degree isn't going to level the playing field for women in the sciences. Because not only is that not a viable option for many women, it doesn't actually fix the problem — and these numbers prove it.


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