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Statistical Analysis Report:

Gender Differences in Earnings Among Young Adults Entering the Labor Market

April 1998

(NCES 98-086) Ordering information


In 1993, more women than men continued their education after high school: 55 percent of all postsecondary degrees and certificates were awarded to women (table 2). Women have also become more likely to work outside of the home. In 1981, 51 percent of married women participated in the labor force. By 1995, 61 percent of married women participated in the labor force./1/ However, at every level of education, from high school dropout to postgraduate degree earner, women earned less than men./2/

This analysis considers two factors that might have contributed to the earnings gap between men and women. Women were more likely than men to interrupt their careers for an extended period of time to take care of young children,/3/ and women were also more likely than men to prepare for jobs that historically have lower income potential./4/

This report examines earnings of men and women who worked consistently by their education level and the gender dominance of major field of study. A consistent worker was defined as one who worked at least 91.67 percent of the total months in the labor force after attaining his or her highest level of education./5/ Further, respondents who earned postsecondary certificates or higher were assigned to categories based on the dominant gender of graduates in their major fields of study. Gender dominance was based on the proportion of women or men in a major field of study. A major field of study was declared gender dominant if 65 percent or more of the program’s graduates were male or female.

  • Women were less likely to work consistently than men after they left school. One-third of the women worked consistently after they left school compared to 46 percent of the men (table 5).
  • Having children had different effects on the probability of working consistently for males and females. Seventeen percent of the women with two children worked consistently compared to 45 percent of those with no children (table 6). Men, on the other hand, were more likely to work if they had two children instead of none. One-half of the men with two children worked consistently compared to 44 percent of those with no children.
  • Nine percent of the women who dropped-out of high school worked consistently compared to one-half of the women with a bachelor’s degree (table 7). One-half of the men with a bachelor’s degree worked consistently compared to 37 percent of those who dropped out of high school.
  • Men with no more than a high school diploma or GED earned $25,601 while women earned $19,333 (in constant 1992 dollars) in the last full year after highest degree attainment (table 8). However, first year annual earnings of men and women who started work immediately after high school did not differ significantly.
  • Men who earned certificates or associate’s degrees earned $22,410 in the first year of work while women earned $19,446, a difference of $2,964. In the last year of work, these men earned $26,969 while women earned $21,868, a difference of $5,101.
  • Female workers with bachelor’s degrees earned $22,602 the year after they graduated compared to $26,778 earned by men. By the last year of work, men were earning $34,104 compared to $27,259 for women.
  • The percentile ranking of income change indicates that men’s average income increased more than women’s from the first year to the last year of work (table 12). This was true at all levels of education.
  • The gender dominance of the major field of study for students who earned any postsecondary degree or certificate was related to their earnings. Workers who graduated in female dominated fields started work earning an average of $20,855 while those in male dominated fields earned $26,170 (table 9). By their last full year of employment studied, workers in female dominated fields earned $24,307 compared to those in male dominated fields who earned $31,292.
  • Men who earned certificates or associate’s degrees in female dominated majors were compared to women who also graduated in female dominated majors. These men earned more than the comparable women in the beginning of their careers as well as the last year of employment studied (table 10). Too few women in this sample graduated with male dominated majors to provide a comparison.
  • Men who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in gender-neutral fields earned more than women in the same fields in their first year out of college and in the last year of the study (table 11). Significant differences did not exist between the earnings for men and women for the first year after graduation for those who majored in male or female dominated majors. By the last full year of employment, however, men earned more than women in male and female dominated majors.


[1] U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1996. (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1996), p. 399.
[2] Ibid, p. 471.
[3] U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau. 1993 Handbook on Women Workers: Trends and Issues. (Washington, D.C.: author, 1993), p. 74.
[4] Jerry Jacobs. Revolving Doors: Sex Segregation and Women's Careers. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989).
[5] Care should be taken in using these results as the data did not allow identification of part- and full-time workers.

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National Center for Education Statistics -
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