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Young women, college and the wage gap November 3, 2012

Don’t assume your first pay offer will be the same as what a similar male graduate will get. Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act was passed, studies continue to find a pay gap between men and women. Some of the difference – women earn about four-fifths of men’s pay – can be attributed to women choosing lower-paying fields, or women temporarily leaving the workforce to raise children, or women taking more part-time jobs.

But a comprehensive report by the American Association of University Women, released last week, zeroed in on a workforce segment that, theoretically, should be on par: women and men getting their first jobs after college graduation.

The finding: Nearly the same gender gap as for the workforce at large. Young women, on average, are earning 82 percent of what their male peers are earning one year after college graduation.

Again, the choice of major and profession makes a difference. Men are more likely to be in the higher paying engineering and science fields.

But even in comparable business and management positions, women are earning less. Among business majors, for example, the survey found women earning about $38,000, on average, compared to men’s average of $45,000.

So here are the career recommendations for women who are concerned about the gap:

Don’t count on equal pay laws. Be prepared to tackle the pay issue head-on. Women’s advocacy groups say most women aren’t as aggressive about negotiating pay as men.

Don’t blindly accept the first number a prospective employer offers. Know a reasonable, competitive pay amount – that you’ve researched through your campus career office or online pay sources such as salary.com – and don’t be afraid to negotiate before you accept the job.

Studies repeatedly show that if you start out behind your male peer it can make a lifetime pay difference of tens of thousands of dollars. And that can hurt your ability to repay student loans and, eventually, your retirement pay amount.

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