Is the Choice of College Major a Significant Factor in the Gender Wage Gap Later in Life?

A working paper from the Becker Friedman Institute authored by researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Chicago, finds that women today still choose college majors associated with lower potential wages than men.

The researchers’ sample included roughly 1.7 million individuals aged 23 to 67 with a bachelors’ degree who reported their undergraduate major. The authors found that “for some majors, there has been substantial gender convergence across birth cohorts. For example, for the 1950 birth cohort, the engineering major contained 20 men for every one woman. Today, the engineering major is still much more male-dominated, but that gap has narrowed over time. By the 1990 birth cohort, there were five men for every woman majoring in engineering.”

In contrast, the authors found that for the 1950 birth cohort, there were five women for every man who majored in nursing or pharmacy. In 1990, this dropped to four women for every man in these majors.

The authors also show that for the 1950 birth cohort, women chose majors that reduced their potential wages by 12.5 percent relative to their male counterparts. By 1990, women still chose majors that were associated with lower wages relative to men, but the gap narrowed to 9.5 percent.

The full study, “A Cross-Cohort Analysis of Human Capital Specialization and the College Gender Wage Gap,” may be downloaded by clicking here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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