Choice of College Major Impacts the Gender Pay Gap

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 56% of students on campuses nationwide are female at this time. This translates in about 2.2 million more women than men enrolled in college—a number that the NCES predicts will be increasing during the next years. For the raw data corresponding to these estimates, head here.

However, women still earn less than men at every education level, and across demographics and workplaces in the United States and around the world. For example, women working full time in the United States are typically paid only 80% of what men are paid. This difference in earning has many causes, and one of them relates to the majors that women and men choose—those who study male-dominated majors generally earn more after college than those who study majors that are dominated by women. In other words, women tend to choose college majors that lead to lower-paying work, as exemplified by a recent Glassdoor report (The Pipeline Problem: How College Majors Contribute to the Gender Pay Gap.

Photo credit: Rodney Martin, CC BY 2.0

For the report, researchers used a unique dataset of more than 46,900 resumes shared on Glassdoor by people who graduated between 2010 and 2017. For each resume, the researchers first analyzed college majors and post-college jobs in the five years after graduation, and then estimated the median pay for the various post-college jobs. They found that many college majors that lead to high-paying roles in tech and engineering are male dominated, while majors that lead to lower-paying roles in social sciences and liberal arts tend to be female-dominated, on average placing men in higher-paying career pathways,

Specifically, the most male-dominated majors are Mechanical Engineering (89% male), Civil Engineering (83% male), Physics (81% male), Computer Science and Engineering (74% male), and Electrical Engineering (74% male). Conversely, the most female-dominated majors are Social Work (85% female), Healthcare Administration (84% female), Anthropology (80% female), Nursing (80% female), and Human Resources (80% female).

The report notes that the gender divide among college majors effectively places men and women on different career tracks early in life, as it leads to differences in skills—skills like coding, knowledge of financial principles, written communication, engineering methods, statistical theory, best practices of design, and more.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Sarah Green Carmichael reports that Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist, hopes that his research will give all college students more insight into which majors pay the most, so that they can make informed decisions about which major they choose. He also hopes that “by showing young women the facts about what they could potentially earn, more of them might choose a physics or engineering major,” and that more of them will persist in those majors even if they’re the only woman in some of their courses.

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.


  1. This blog post, albeit sad, held no surprising information. I believe Bailey Cott made excellent points and I agree with her completely. We must look at both sides of the gender divide and see what both sexes are struggling with due to societal pressures. Men are often told that they need to make enough money to provide for their entire family and women are often told to embrace their motherly, caring instincts, What we need to do is rebuild our society. We need to foster a more welcoming environment in which everyone can feel comfortable pursuing a job that they love. As the world moves forward and gets older, more progressive people are entering the stage. They are slowly changing gender norms and societal views. For that, I have hope that one day in my future, I will have the opportunity to go wherever i want with my career, without having to fear the wage gap or judgement.

  2. I agree with most of the comments, especially that it’s sad that we are still experiencing this today. I believe that women should try to take on high paying majors that are male dominant even though the acceptance rate for a woman in those majors are significantly lower than men. I feel like a lot of women are settling for less because they know that based on statistics, the chance of them pursuing a higher paying major is very slim. But I think if more women are willing to take a chance and strive to pursue a better career for themselves, eventually it’ll shift the culture and hopefully put an end to the large pay gap between men and women because employers will realize that women are as capable as men. The traditional women role is not as common today as it is before. A lot of women are supporting themselves without relying on someone to take care of them. So, to have a fulfilling life, women should embrace what’s best for them in the long run. The first step of changing this is to have more women candidate in the male-dominant field so that it’ll help balance the pay gap between men and women, and that forces employers to have to start paying women what they deserve.

    • I definitely agree with Nina, In this contemporary society, everything about women has always been inferior to men and thats why I feel like women don’t have the confidence to strive for the equal position or anything higher than men or at least most don’t. And even when women do take a leap at a higher position in the work field, again they are not confident in their work or they show their weakness and it just loses trust and confident to not only the higher ups, the buyers, and the followers. So, theres a differences in the pay between them and the opposite sex. Just like what Nina and many other commenter said, in order to change the gap in women and men’s pay roll, women not only need to strive for better position but show more confident in themselves. Confident is an important factor in this society. It helps a person gain trust from people and also shows the positiveness in a person.

  3. I undoubtedly agree with the rest of the comments. The reason why the professions that are dominated by women are underpaid is solely because they are dominated by women. A possible center-argument is that men are more ambitious and are not afraid of pursuing careers that are competitive and higher paid. I see both sides of this issue. Men are getting paid more than women period. Male nurses are making more than women nurses. That baffles me! They desire us to participate in careers they find to be “suitable” caregivers, nurturing, and teaching, but want to barely pay us. That is an issue. Today is not like that past, women need these jobs to support entire families. Looking the divorce rates of this era, we need to paid equally. As a realistic women, I need to understand that there is a chance that I will be supporting myself and my family on my own. With that being said, I cannot afford to get paid a joking salary. I appreciate this article, but it has nothing to do with education or majors or anything of that sort, it has to do with discrimination. As a black women, I am aware of the fact that black women are disproportionately single and make a big portion of the single mothers within society, but they are also the most educated demographic. Therefore, single, black educated mothers need to be able to feed their children the same way a white male in a marriage can feed his. We need to have equal opportunities for our people. We are way too far along to still be having the same conversations.

  4. I agree with Bailey and Priya completely. I could not agree more with them. A lot of the comments discuss the frustration that comes with reading this article and how society still undervalues women but I think the question has to do with why women are not having a successful mindset beforehand going into college. Also, with every article, you have to ask yourself, with what circumstances did these numbers arise? As Bailey so well put it, at the end of the day we are a free economy and the market is the market- it is not influenced by values, morals, or religious reasons. Why are women not considering higher paying job fields? It may not always be because of a gender issue. I know many women my age, younger, and older who choose to stay at home or take a lesser paying job not because they are women but because they want to. A lot of women my age who are in college have already considered family and a career and most would rather stay at home, not work as much, as raise a family. So even though it is 2017, there are quite a few females I know who still want and prefer the “traditional” role of a woman- and no they do not have any external pressures such as family or boyfriend affecting this decision making process.

  5. As a woman pursuing a degree in a male-dominated major, I am often asked by my peers and professors if I’m “lost” when I enter the room. Additionally, people automatically assume that I’m a nursing major because they wouldn’t expect me to be a computer science major. When talking about the struggles I face in my field as a woman, my mother even recommended nursing as a possibility because “it’s safe.” However, after reading this article, it would appear that choosing a female-dominated major or male-dominated major results in the same outcome: lower pay in the workforce. Additional research even shows that despite nursing being female-dominated, male nurses are generally paid more than female nurses. Following up on what Bailey said, women can lean towards male-dominated fields, make more money, and still earn less than their male colleagues. Conversely, men can lean towards female-dominated fields, and still earn more than their female colleagues. People need to choose majors that align with their passions and values because the gender pay gap will continue (like Nancy said) until pay is adjusted across all fields.

  6. I had the same initial reaction as Tayumicah. I found it so interesting that women generally chose careers that fit the “caretaker” description and were very people based. I think that caring is innate to women, but I am also surprised that our generation of women isn’t pursuing higher technological, mathematical, and scientific careers. If a similar study was done ten years down the road, I feel like the results would be very different due to the fact that most of the women I know are pursuing higher level degrees of these subjects. Also, it is understandable that some careers are higher paying than the ones women typically gravitate to. However, one must keep in mind that there is a still a pay gap at this level, and can sometimes be even more drastic than lower paying jobs (think male vs. female CEO, surgeon, etc.). I feel like by now, things should be more equal between men and women, but based of recent studies, America is more sexist than it may appear. The same work should be given the same pay- bottom line. I don’t think most men even realize the pay gap is this drastic either, and if it was brought to light (like Andrew Chamberlain is working on), I think more men will also agree to equal pay- and even fight for it. I hope that our generation can teach the generation after us to explore all options and follow their true passion. I don’t want any girls growing up in a world where they’re ashamed to become astronauts or mathematicians or a teacher, if that is their goal. Hopefully by then, equal pay will be a nonissue.

  7. I agree with Nancy Obi. It is absolutely frustrating that women working in fields such as psychology and sociology, get paid less than people in male dominated fields. The question that need to be asked is why women aren’t in these male dominated fields in the first place. While women are more than capable of performing in these jobs, it has been made extremely hard for women to prosper in these jobs. Because men inherently get paid more than woman in general, it only made sense that male dominated majors would get paid more and that female dominated majors would get paid less. Although the skills learned with each major are different, what make one set of skills more worthy of pay then the other? Psychologists, social workers and nurses are important to society, and possess skills that keep society running, therefore they don’t deserve less pay because they’re skills are deemed not difficult.

  8. I must disagree with the idea some people have about female-dominated careers are paid less because they are undervalued due to the fact of being female-dominated. This could be true but I do not think we have nearly enough information to assume something so large. The USA works as a supply and demand market. Highly skilled and difficult jobs such as engineering and technology will always make more than any other field. The real question is why aren’t women going into those fields at a proportional rate? Or reversely, why aren’t men going into female-dominated fields? As May said, everyone should follow their passions. We suspect that many women aren’t able to fully follow their passions, but what about men? Do all of them really want to be in business or technology? Or do they feel pressured to follow those careers (which can make them enough money to support a family) as we feel pressured to be in fields such as education or health administration (which afford us enough time to raise a family)? My ultimate hope for men and women is that they get to explore and find their passions from a young age without all of the bias and pressure that society puts on us. I distinctly remember my parents from a young age to find a career in which gives me enough time for a family. I’m sure young men hear to find them careers to support a family. We must stop putting these gender roles on children which I think contributes greatly to the career differences.

  9. When reading this article, it made me question why women are picking majors that are considered caretaker, or relationships based positions? For example nursing and Health Resources. Also, most women may not take these roles because of the societal stigma that “girls are not good at math.” Furthermore, majors that require a lot of pre-requisites in math may deter women who believe in this stigma. Such as Physics, computer science, and mechanical engineering majors. Another question to ponder is why are caretakers majors such as nursing and social worker more female-dominated and less valued in society. In female-dominated careers, women are less appreciated because of the historical meaning of women in the work industry. In the past women were considered to be the “caretakers” of the home. On the contrary, men were working in the workforce in more technical or vigorous jobs. Men in the workforce, were considered to be the “breadwinner” a person who pays all the expenses of the home. As times changed, women were starting to go into the workforce and gradually started to go into these more “manly” careers. Also, even as women started to progress in the academic and work industry, women were often seen as less valuable, positioned at a lower position and paid less. Now in today’s society, I think as more women leaders in these male-dominated professions start to speak out and encourage younger college students, I think gradually women will begin to pick majors like Computer Science, Physics, etc.

  10. What m.flores referred to in response to this article, is something my previous sociology class had discussed. Roles that are traditionally held by women generally come with lower salaries than those traditionally dominated by men. What is truly interesting is that men with female-dominated jobs also receive a higher income than their female counterparts. As everyone mentioned, the information in this article was not shocking. The true question is how do we, as the future generation entering the workforce, close this gender-pay gap. One part of the solution is knowing how to negotiate and not being afraid to do so, as we have spoken about in multiple classes. But, what are the others solutions? The women before us were fully capable of negotiating and many had done so, yet, as a whole, our pay is still cut. It is up to my generation to actively attack this issue and solve it. Knowing is half the battle, so our knowledge of this issue and possible solutions will hopefully lead to its destruction in the near future.

  11. Following up on what Nancy and m. flores mentioned, women are paid less than men based on the fact they are women. This can be seen in education, specifically teaching. Once women were allowed to join the workforce, many became teachers. Teaching was considered an honored profession and the pay was equivocated to that, but the value of teachers decreased once it became a field dominated by women and the pay subsequently decreased as well. Furthermore, I disagree with Priya; I don’t think women should study a certain field or major just to even out the pay gap. People should follow their passions. Additionally, Naema brings up a good point with the data provided and how it’s main focus is engineering statistics.

  12. Women being paid less than men was a fact that I have been aware of but this article provided a reason to this statistic and potentially a solution. It was somewhat surprising to me that the major you chose had such an affect on how much you earned. Obviously, there are some high degree paying majors and low degree paying majors, but I never thought of it in the perspective of why women and men had different incomes. Women should begin considering male-dominated fields as a possible solution to lessening the gap that is apparent. I would have also liked to seen the pay difference between men and women in health fields that are specifically dealing with research and becoming a physician. These majors could have been Biology and Chemistry. What are the statistics involving these majors? The study mainly demonstrated engineering statistics. Moving forward, if women come across these statistics and conclusion that majors have a role in pay gap, they can alter and further explore options in these fields.

  13. I find this article interesting in the fact that female dominated careers are paid less compared to male dominated careers. This has me thinking of the possibility that female dominated careers are paid less either because they are female careers and therefore aren’t seen as useful as male dominated careers, or because they genuinely aren’t seen as needed career paths. I feel we shouldn’t restrict women to what they should and shouldn’t go for in majors based on the gender gap. If a woman wants to pursue physics or any type of engineering then she should because she genuinely enjoys it and shouldn’t be discouraged by the fact that it is a male dominated field, this however shouldn’t be the reason to push women away from women centered fields. Perhaps the real problem in the pay gap isn’t that women are seeking lower paying jobs but that ‘women’ work isn’t seen as worthy of being paid on the same level as males. It would be interesting to see research done on males in female dominated fields and what they get paid compared to females in male dominated fields and what they get paid. I feel the answer to the gender pay gap is far more complicated then just women choosing lower paying jobs.

  14. While reading this article, i had many conflicting feelings arise. One was pure frustration in regards to the fact that it is 2017 and i still live in a society that undervalues women. So much so that we are paid so significantly less across the board. Another emotion that surfaced for me was excitement. This stemmed from what Priya refrenced, which is that Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain (male), has made an effort to bring light to this issue. By putting out information on this well known site, he is enabling those of us that desire to raise above the pay gap a tool to use to do so in our undergraduate years. The last emotion i would like to say the article caused me to resonate with is that of annoyance. They talk here about how higher paying technology fields are male dominated while lower pay social science fields are were the women are. I am a psychology major and previously a communications major. The studying of the human mind and being able to help others in a one-on-one basis is where my passion lies. So the fact that the article puts emphasis on women choosing a under paying career is where i get annoyed. I am not going to school for all these years just so that in the end i can choose to be in a field that dose not want to pay me as good as those in engineering. Rather, pay should be adjusted across fields more so than just across gender.

  15. Reading this article, I came across facts that I was already aware of such as the statistics of how women are paid less than men, but I also came across information I was never previously aware of. For example, the fact that women tend to choose college majors that lead to lower-paying work. This really shocked me because we women should have the mind set of striving for high majors. I am appreciative of the fact that Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist, has researched and put out knowledge about which majors pay the most so that us college students can utilize those useful tools available. Even better I love that he is doing this so that it would show young women what they can possibly earn, resulting to choose a high major.

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