Narrowing The Pay Gap

Kelly Wallace is a CBS News Correspondent based in New York.
As I was working on a story for "The Early Show" about the pay gap between women and men just one year out of college, I remembered what a male college classmate said to me during our senior year. The classmate, who I won't name, said his starting salary was more important than mine because he would one day be the breadwinner for his family and I would not. Now, my women friends out there know I wasn't going to let that go unanswered. I pushed back, said my salary was just as important and that I could be a breadwinner for myself or my family. My argument did nothing to change his mind. I remember thinking, "How could he possibly think this and how many others out there feel the same way?"

We were both seniors at the Wharton Undergraduate School of Business. He went on to pursue a job in some business field, I think it was real estate, and I eventually chose journalism. So I guess his starting salary ended up being a whole lot larger than mine!

But the story illustrates what a new report has found - that just one year out of college, there is already a pay gap between women and men, with women earning 20 percent less than men. Once you factor out issues such as occupation (since more women enter lower paid fields such as teaching then men) and issues of experience, there is still a gap - five percent according to the report by the American Association of University Women. (You can see my report for "The Early Show" in the monitor on the left.")

"It suggests that discrimination may still be a very important problem for women in the workplace," said Catherine Hill, one of the authors of the report. "Not only for older women but also for younger women coming into the workplace."

Ten years out, the gap widens, with women making almost 30 percent less than men. Twelve percent of the gap can't be attributed to factors such as occupation choice, leaving the job force to care for children or experience.

So how much of the gap is connected to what my male classmate said to me during college -- a belief that women won't be the breadwinners and therefore don't have to make as much as men?

Armed with the new report, I headed downtown here in New York City to NYU's campus to hear from college women. "Are you surprised?," I asked Kiiana Reyes, an NYU junior. "Yes… because we do the same amount of work at school, so it's not acceptable at all," she said.

In fact, women do better at school then men, according to the report, graduating – on average – with higher GPA's than their male classmates but still making less money.

"One of the reasons might be that men negotiate better," said Flavia Mange, a master's degree student from Brazil. "But on the other side, maybe there is just a bias against women."

Will the gap ever narrow to zero? I posed that question to Jessica Lonergan, a second year law student at NYU who said true pay equity will only come with a new generation of leaders.

"Particularly because as the new generation, I think more women will rise to leadership positions and I can't imagine women are going to stand for a pay differential," said Jessica.

This reporter hopes not.