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How much less does a female grad earn? A look at Harvard’s class of 2014

A Harvard diploma still means more earning power for male graduates – even when their female peers enter the same field.

According to the annual senior survey conduced by the Harvard University's campus newspaper The Crimson, the graduating class of 2014 does all right in the big scheme of things. Employed seniors will earn a median starting salary from $50,000 (U.S.) to $69,000, higher than the national average for graduating students of $45,000. For 11 per cent, the job market is far richer, with salaries over $90,000.

But break the numbers down by gender, and the story changes. Only 4 per cent of the women who answered the survey could claim to be in the top earning group, compared to 31 per cent of men. Part of the reason are the industries they have chosen to pursue; male students were roughly twice as likely to be pursuing jobs in finance, tech or engineering. But even for Harvard women entering the same field, the wage gap persists.

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According to the survey, while 29 per cent of the male grads going into finance reported earning a starting salary of more than $90,000, not one woman could boast the same near-six-figure paycheque.

Now, the Crimson only heard back from half the graduating class, or roughly 700 students. It's not a random sample. Also, finance is a big field, and the survey didn't ask what kinds of jobs the grads were exploring in the finance field, or whether women might be working at occupations that come with lower salaries (or what kind of degrees those seniors possessed). Female grads were more likely to be heading to unpaid internships, but those are common in the non-profit sector, to which more young women than men still gravitate.

But still, there's that troubling gender wage gap even in the same field when entering the work force at the same time. Even if female and male finance candidates don't look the same – why don't they? And if women are getting lower paying jobs in the field, why is that?

Presumably, for most students, the mommy penalty, which suggests that mothers earn less for just being mothers, can't be blamed, nor work-family conflict. The wage gap for female grads even in their first year of employment has already been documented. In Canada, a study by Catalyst, a women's advocacy group, found that female MBA graduates earn $8,167 less than male peers in the first job they take after graduation. (One note: The data was based on 1,574 students who graduated over the course of a decade, between 1996 and 2007.)

A study by the American Association of University Women in 2012 found that female college grads working in their first year earned significantly less than male peers working in the same field – if it was a traditionally male industry such as computer science. In the humanities or health care fields, both men and women were found to earn the same.

So with all the debate over the return-on-investment of an expensive Ivy League diploma, it seems a new caveat might added to the calculation: Compared to the guy in Harvard cap and gown beside you, if you're a woman, your diploma might be worth even less.

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