Women need a PhD to earn as much as men with a BA

Well these are some pretty stark stats. Kay Steiger points out these findings from the latest report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “The College Payoff: Education, Opportunity, Lifetime Earnings:

Chart showing male and female earnings by educational attainment

Click image to enlarge.

Just look at the red text to see what an extreme gap we’re talking about:

Women have to have a PhD to make as much as men with a BA


Men with some college but no degree earn about the same as women with a Bachelor’s degree

We know there’s still a wage gap, with women as a whole earning 77 cents for every dollar men earn, and women of color earning even less. What this chart points out is how much time and money women have to invest in education to up their earnings. And they still get less out of the deal than men – the wage gap persists no matter the degree.

This data is a good rebuttal to the occasional media angst over the notion that women are outperforming men in school. Though the accuracy of that claim is questionable anyway, this new report makes one thing clear: women need to climb higher up the ladder of degrees if they want earnings that are competitive with men.

The report also rebuts the tired argument that the wage gap is all because women work less, since they’ve got those frivolous distractions of having babies and raising kids:

Women earn less at all degree levels, even when they work as much as men. On average, women who work full-time, full-year earn 25 percent less than men, even at similar education levels.

The report also covers the racial wage gap, another stark example of inequality persisting regardless of educational level:

Chart showing earnings by race and educational attainment

Click image to enlarge.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/mathiastolerain/ Matt

    The data presented in this blog post seems sound and useful enough. Especially at the macroscopic level, it is interesting to see that across all levels of education, the problem of the wage gap tends to persist.

    I am concerned that the title of this post may be a little misleading however. While the statement that “women need a PhD to earn as much as a man with a BA” appears to be true on average, by lumping all academic paths together one runs the risk of comparing apples to oranges. Is it really fair to compare a BA in Engineering to a PhD in English Lit, or a BA in Statistics to a PhD in Political Science?

    I would argue that the true value of this particular data set (at the collegiate level) is to outline the “cost” of social pressures that might nudge women away from undergraduate work (and apparently future earnings) in something such as Math, Engineering, or Physics.

    • davenj

      Agreed. I think the conclusion reached in the title is inaccurate, but the data shows the effects of cradle-to-grave social pressures that impact what degrees are being pursued.

  • http://feministing.com/members/theprofessorisin/ Karen Kelsky

    This is depressing news indeed—it recasts the wage gap into much starker terms. Despite the contracting of the university industry, the Ph.D. and an academic career can still, if pursued with great care and self-protectiveness, be a solid path to financial security for women. The key is to have an excellent plan and backup plan, not to go into debt for the Ph.D. (that is, go in completely funded), and avoid adjunct hell. Those are a lot of “ifs,” but it can be done. Of course, this begs the question of why women need a Ph.D. in the first place.

    Incidentally as a careers coach whose clientele is almost entirely women, I would put forth the idea that women really, really suck at standing up for themselves, promoting themselves, expecting and demanding to be paid what they’re worth, and asking for raises. If there is one thing I’ve observed across the board—-this is it. So, there are things besides a Ph.D. that a woman can do to make more money.

    • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ toongrrl

      Depressing. I’m working on getting a BA

  • http://feministing.com/members/pinkiepie/ Chris P. Bacon

    These statistics are disheartening. Women deserve as much, if not more, than men, since they work just as hard. It’s wrong that women make only about 75% of what a man makes.

    Men make about $47,127 on average a year and women make about $36,278 a year (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male%E2%80%93female_income_disparity_in_the_United_States). Assuming they each attend college for 4 years after they turn 18 and retire at 65, both have a working career of 43 years. The man will gross $2,026,461 and the woman will gross $1,559,954, with a difference of $466,507 in favor of the man.

    But, in defense of men like myself, when we turn 18, we MUST sign up for Selective Service (the draft). Women are not required to do so. If we feel this is an unfair practice and decide to enjoy the same right as women by not signing up, we go to jail for five years and get fined $250,000. That means we lose a quarter of a million dollars and five years of potential salary, for a total of $485,635. So, if men want to enjoy the same liberties as women, we must subtract that from our total earnings. By attempting equal rights, men will net $1,540,826 and women will net $1,559,954, with a difference of $19,128 for women. Plus, that’s five years of our lives we’ll never get back.

    So, while I agree that women deserve equal rights and equal pay, I would also like to point out that men deserve the same as well. The Selective Service is sexist and should be gotten rid of, in my opinion.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rustylongwood/ Chucks Mcgee

    The whole title is completely deceptive and attempts to use a data set to argue for discrimination against women. There are many reasons why women with a BA would earn much less on average than a man with a BA that aren’t because of discrimination, including:

    1. Women who become a homemaker/stay-at-home-mom after working a few years after college. Their lifetime earnings will be very low.
    2. Women who choose to take on a reduced workload or a part time job to take care of their children.
    3. Women tend to major in the liberal arts more often than men and much less in the sciences. Science BAs earn much more than liberal arts BAs as they qualify people for specialized jobs. Even liberal arts PhDs don’t pay all that well, and women in such programs also are giving up 5+ years of earnings, while a man with a BA in say, petroleum engineering will be spending those 5 years raking in $500k+.

    When you consider these factors, you realize the data presented aren’t sufficient to make any conclusions. Unless you show that women with the same level of education in the same field who are working the same jobs and putting in the same amount of time are earning less, you really don’t have a case.