Salary Inequity in Higher Ed: Pay Gap Persists for Women

salary inequity

College campuses are supposed to be bastions of enlightenment and fairness. They strive to be a haven for equality in representing divergent points of view. Major legislation such as Title IX (promoting gender equality in collegiate sports) has made college campuses the Petri dish for ideas and programs ensuring gender equality. So how’s that been working out for female faculty members on these campuses? Well, that’s another story.

It’s an accepted fact of life that American women receive less compensation for doing the same job that American men do – across the board, regardless of shared education levels and types of employment. A study compiled by JSI Associates for AAUW (American Association of University Women) from U.S. Census, American Community Survey data published in 2009 revealed that the earnings ratio between male and female college-educated workers age 25 and older put women at a distinct economic disadvantage. The overall average salary for men is $70,800 compared to $50,600 for women. That means women doing the same job as men earn just 71 percent of what men earn, on average.

The male and female college-educated workers age 25 and older earnings ratio differs from state to state. The best states for female salary equality are Vermont (87 percent), Hawaii (83 percent), Delaware (80 percent), New York (78 percent), Montana (77 percent). The worst states for female salary equality are Louisiana (65 percent), West Virginia (67 percent), Mississippi (67 percent), Virginia (67 percent) and Oklahoma (67 percent). This gap has existed as long as there have been statistics to measure it, yet, unlike other forms of discrimination targeting races or creeds, it is accepted as part of the economics of the American work force – even on American college campuses.

Although the gap on college campuses is not as stark as in the general college-educated population, it still does exist, even among the 25 colleges and universities offering the highest average salaries for full-time female instructional staff for AY 2008-09. Indeed, according to surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 24 of those 25 schools have a gender gap, to the detriment of women, showing that their female staff earn from a low of 67 percent to a high of 94 percent of what male staff earn. Only one school, Santa Mónica College, shows women staff out-earning men staff (106 percent).

Stanford headed the list in offering the most average salary to its full-time female instructional staff but still registered an 86 percent genderpay gap. Harvard, Yale and Princeton all made the top 10, paying female full-time instructional staff average salaries from $108,000 to $121,000 – but male instructional staff at these same Ivy League schools made from 23 percent to 24 percent more in salary. And while female instructional staff at the University of Chicago earn on average about $98,000 a year (which places this school 14th on our list), male instructional staff earn on average about $145,000 a year – fully one-third more than their female peers.

Last November, a new study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly illustrated the point that a significant gender-based faculty pay gap exists. While the survey notes salary is based on “market-based pay structure and individual human capital factors” such as education level, experience and seniority, gender-based issues universally favored men. And while the gap has narrowed since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy – when women were earning an average of 50 percent less than men performing the same job – the last 10 years have shown little if any improvement.

Many attempts have been made to explain the gaps in faculty salaries among men and women. An explanation offered in a paper presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting by Paul D. Umbach, assistant professor of higher education, University of Iowa, is that the gap is a product of where women are employed rather than what field they specialize in. Having reviewed an NCES survey of close to 8,000 faculty members at 472 four-year colleges and universities from 2003 to 2004, Umbach (as reported by David Glenn for The Chronicle’s Web site) found that some women are more likely to “nest” at “public, master’s-level institutions that place more of a premium on teaching than research and attract less external research money” than other schools that might pay larger salaries.

This might account for some gender pay gaps, but it is clearly not the case with the Top 25 list in this issue, which includes a cross section of schools with varying degrees of research emphasis. It also does not explain why there is a gender pay gap (albeit just 9 percent and 10 percent) even at the United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy. Glenn and Umbach agree that gender bias or sexism do exist in higher education salary assignments. Umbach concludes that, when all other factors are eliminated, there remains an average gap of 4.2 percent caused by what Glenn calls “sheer discrimination.” In Umbach’s words, “Women may take a double hit, or even a triple hit. They’re taking a hit, first of all, of roughly 4.2 percent. And then they take a further hit depending on where they’re nested, and they tend to be nested in places where they’re rewarded less.”

Top Salaries for Femaile 2010

A study of British universities, released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in March of 2009, demonstrates that gender pay gaps are not just an American phenomenon. The study shows that the number of women professors is increasing in Britain. Women make up nearly 19 percent of university professors as of AY 2007-08, up from 17.5 percent in AY 2006-07. And that the gender pay gap has actually increased. Sally Hunt, general secretary at the University and College Union, noted that male professors earned, on average, 13.9 percent more than female professors in 2007-08, compared to 13.7 percent the previous year. “For years, we have heard enlightened rhetoric in higher education about the issue of unfair pay for women,” says Hunt. “Sadly, there are still wide gaps in our institutions today, with a worrying year on the rise in the overall gender pay gap. There is not yet enough being done to root out and tackle the problem.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit, also weighed in on the report, stating, “Although 18.7 percent of professors are female, women make up 47.9 percent of lecturers and 38.6 percent of senior lecturers and researchers. The gap between these numbers is significant.”

In 2007, the Journal of Higher Education published “Gender, Race, Marital Status and Faculty Salaries” by Robert K. Toutkoushian, associate professor, Indiana University; Marcia L. Bellas, research associate, Vermont Center for Justice Research; and John V. Moore, graduate assistant, Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University. The paper makes the point that researchers generally agree gender pay gaps are associated with being female in academia, but they don’t always agree on why this is so. The reasons for pay disparity cited include the notion that women are less likely than men to invest in the education and skills that would advance career and pay grade. But this study also indicates that even after taking that into consideration, the gap between males and females still exists.

Another argument raised in this study is that of the persistence of “cultural ideologies and beliefs about the appropriate roles of men and women.” The argument here is that colleges may pay female faculty less than male faculty because they still consider men to be the breadwinners of the family, with women playing a supporting economic role in the family and not needing as much income. They pay men a “family wage” even though it is illegal to do so. But the study points out that this does not explain why single men still out-earn women in academia. Another theory is that married female professors may be restricted geographically because of their husband’s employment. Married female professors, therefore, might be in a worse position to bargain for higher salaries than their male counterparts.

A study released in 2009 by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) echoes Umbach’s findings. The report was requested in 2008 by the IUPUI Office for Women. The school’s Information Management and Institutional Research supervised a survey of 1,112 full-time faculty. Salaries were analyzed in terms of the employee’s personal characteristics, academic discipline, faculty rank, tenure status, years of service, gender, race/ethnicity, and IUPUI school. The survey committee used these factors to calculate what the employee’s salary should be.

The study produced four findings specific to IUPUI’s schools:

1) After factoring in all variables, the gap between the salaries of male and female faculty still showed a 2.4 percent advantage for men.

2) There was no significant difference in salaries when factoring in race and ethnicity (Hispanic women faculty, for example, were no more or less disadvantaged than non-Hispanic women faculty).

3) At IUPUI, the gender pay gap between female and male faculty members has been declining since 1998 when the unexplained disparity was 3 percent. In 2009, the gap was 2.4 percent.

4) An anomaly of the survey was that 26 men as opposed to 16 women of the more than 1,000 surveyed were tagged as having salaries “significantly” lower than predicted by the survey committee.

Gender pay gap issues are more important than ever in these perilous economic times. The bean counters at colleges and universities might take advantage of this gap by hiring morewomen. This gaming of the gap does a disserviceto both men, who could lose jobs, and women, who would continue to work for less and perpetuate the gender pay gap. The good news is that this might be less likely in 2010 than even two years ago.

On Jan. 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 – the first legislation passed by the new Congress and signed by the new president. The bill was introduced in 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. that Lilly Ledbetter could not file an equalpay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination because she had raised the issue after a 180-day statute of limitations had passed. Ledbetter argued that she had only recently become aware that her male peers were receiving more pay.

Congress had introduced a bill in 2007 to preserve filing rights for victims of gender pay gaps, but it wasn’t enacted because it couldn’t survive a cloture vote in the Senate. It became an issue in the 2008 campaign when candidate Obama supported the legislation and candidate John McCain opposed it. With greater opportunity and accountability provided by the Ledbetter bill, colleges and universities will have to think twice about balancing their books by expanding the gender pay gap.