Women: How Higher Education Doesn't Pay

Last Updated Sep 3, 2010 10:12 AM EDT

Gotta love it: the more education women get, the more they fall behind male peers in pay.
It's one of those conundrums - there are so many in the wage gap morass - that just doesn't make sense. Thank goodness the Institute for Women's Policy Research spells it out in agonizing detail in its just-released briefing, "Separate and Not Equal? Gender Segregation in the Labor Market and the Gender Wage Gap."

Well, I read these things so you don't have to.

Here's the top line: If you're in a female-dominated job category, you are nearly guaranteed to make less than men, regardless of your educational achievements and job skills.

For lower-skilled occupations - truck drivers (mainly men) vs. home health aides (mainly women), the female categories earn 73.8% of what the male-dominated categories make.

For medium-skilled occupations - electricians vs. bookkeepers - the female-dominated categories earn 79.8% of what the male-dominated categories make.

For the highest level - software engineers vs. registered nurses - the female-dominated categories earn 66.9% of what the male-dominated categories make.

The more education you get, the more behind the guys you'll fall. And that's not counting student loans.

Here's the kicker: women actually rule the ranks of highly skilled workers: 34% of women work in high-skilled occupations, compared to 27.2% of men.

It's better, but not by much, for the gender-neutral careers at each level. Those folks also make less than the male-dominated categories, but more than the female-dominated categories.

It may not neutralize the wage gap, but more education does increase earnings. Workers in the highest-level female-dominated category pull in median weekly wages of $953, more than twice those of the souls in lowest-level female-dominated categories. But, again, the highest paid male-category workers kick even more butt: they make a median $1,424, nearly three times that of the lowest-level male-category workers.

Still, this is a harsh reality for all us good girls who counted on diplomas, degrees and certifications to boost us to the top. You scratch and borrow your way through school, thinking you've found a challenging career that's in sync with your ideals, only to find yourself surrounded by like-minded women (good) who collectively make less than men with equivalent degrees (bad).

Happy Labor Day!

Photo from Dreamstine