The Gender Pay Gap Starts at the Entry Level and Affects Graduates From All Universities, Data Shows

New insights from our 2019 report, "The State of the Gen Z Job Search."

We’ve all heard the statistic – on average, women earn 80% of what men earn annually

The “80%” figure comes from calculating the average median earnings of all women compared to all men. The wage gap has persisted due to factors like access to education, direct discrimination, concentration of men and women in certain occupations, and societal expectations surrounding motherhood, which means it varies when accounting for race, ethnicity, age, occupation, education level, and geographic location. For example, according to calculations by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), California has the smallest wage gap while Louisiana has the largest, with a gender pay ratio of 89% and 69%, respectively. And comparing by race/ethnicity, Asian women earn 85% of what White men make on average, while Hispanic/Latina women earn 53% of what White men make on average. 

While it may widen or narrow depending on varying factors, the gender pay gap exists no matter how you analyze it. And in data collected for our recent report, we found that female college graduates enter the workforce making less than male college graduates, regardless of their university prestige level.  

In The State of the Gen Z Job Search, we surveyed 1,100 graduates from the class of 2019,  all hailing from a diverse group of universities from Ivy Leagues to large public universities to small private institutions. The group of respondents were all verified RippleMatch users, but they came from varying academic backgrounds and are now employed in a wide range of roles and industries, from technology to healthcare. 

We asked all of our survey respondents to provide their overall salary (including bonuses), as well as their job title, job function, and industry. We analyzed salary data for the most commonly occurring job titles and functions, which included software engineering roles, analyst roles, and sales roles. We also looked at the median salaries of graduates from schools of varying prestige levels. Comparing by specific roles as well as university prestige level, we found that the gender pay gap affects graduates from all universities, and is widest at the most prestigious universities. 

Among college graduates from “Top 20 Schools” (including Ivy Leagues and highly ranked institutions), women enter the job market making 76% of what their male counterparts make. Female graduates from schools typically ranked in the Top 50 make 84% of what male graduates make, while female graduates from universities typically ranked within the Top 100 make 79% of what male graduates make. The gender pay gap between male graduates at Top 20 universities and female graduates from Top 100 schools is a whopping 64%. 

While there are many documented reasons behind pay disparities, the stark wage gap we found in our education-focused data is likely due in part to lower numbers of women majoring and entering into careers in STEM compared to men. Despite receiving 57% of the bachelor’s degrees, women make up 36% of bachelor’s degrees in STEM, and that percentage drops even lower for degrees like computer science and engineering. 

Ivy Leagues certainly aren’t exempt from those stats, though some fare better than others – The Harvard Crimson reported in 2016 that the school’s percentage of female computer science majors hovered around 25%, and Yale Daily News reported that during the 2016–2017 academic school year, three times as many male seniors majored in computer science, and eight times as many male seniors majored in mathematics.

Differences in occupation aside, however, male college graduates still received slightly higher salaries than female college graduates for software engineering, analyst, and sales roles. 


Female software engineers receive 97% of the earnings of male software engineers; 98% of the earnings of male analysts; and 98% of the earnings of men that hold sales roles. 

External research shows this isn’t unique to our data. Information collected by Lean In found that women make less than men as computer scientists, engineers, managers, and sales professionals. Data collected by AAUW shows similar results but for a wider range of professions, including financial managers, lawyers, and chief executives. 

The wage gap starts with women as young as age 16. By the time women are between the ages of 20-24 – around when they start their professional careers – they make 11% less than men on average, even though women negotiate for higher pay at about the same rates as men. Even with the progress made in the last 50 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act, it’s clear that equal compensation remains a relevant and pressing issue for female college graduates beginning their careers. 

Want to know how Gen Z candidates are faring during COVID-19? Download our report here to understand how employment was affected during the onset of COVID-19, and download our report The Gen Z Job Seeker to understand how this generation’s approach to the job search has fundamentally changed.


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