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  • Trends in Earning Potential and Gender Representation

    March 22, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Compensation
    A female biologist fills vials.

    TAGS: compensation, salaries, trends and predictions, spotlight

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Over recent decades, computer science and engineering are among only a handful of majors that have seen any meaningful growth in average starting salary offer and, for quite some time, have been among the highest potential earners, according to research by NACE.

    However, while women made enormous strides in educational attainment across these same years, among STEM majors, women have limited representation in fields with very high earning potential (computer science and engineering), yet are highly concentrated in a field with very low earning potential (biology).

    In 2011, the average starting salary offer for computer science majors (adjusted for inflation into 2011 dollars) was 22 percent greater than that of graduates overall; for engineering majors, it was 17 percent greater.

    By contrast, the average starting salary offer for biology majors remained effectively flat from 1974 to 2010. In 2010, their average offer was 38 percent less than that of graduates overall. (See Figure 1.)

    Meanwhile, during the 38-year period covered in this analysis, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees conferred across all fields of study represented by women rose from 44 percent to 57 percent. However, the extent to which individual fields of study did or did not coincide with this overall trend varied widely.

    The field of biology, for the most part, fell in line with the overall trend: In 1974, women represented just one-third of degrees conferred, but, in the last two decades, and particularly since 2003, they have represented well over half. (See Figure 2.)

    Women also saw widened representation among engineering graduates, running parallel to the overall trend, but doing so at a great distance; women represented just 2 percent of degrees conferred in engineering in 1974, but since the turn of the century have represented nearly one-fifth.

    The field of computer science followed the overall trend through the early-1980s, but since then has starkly defied that trend. Women’s share of computer science completions peaked at 37 percent in 1983, gradually slipped over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, and then plummeted after the turn of the century. Since 2006, women have represented less than one-fifth (18 to 19 percent) of computer science degrees conferred.

    Controlling for the trend in the average starting salary offer for all graduates, from 1974 to 2011 the percentage of bachelor’s degrees conferred in computer science represented by women had a strong negative correlation with the average starting salary offer for computer science graduates.

    This indicates that, regardless of the broader “up and downs” of the job market, as women’s representation among computer science graduates has declined, the average starting salary offer for computer science graduates has risen substantially. At the most extreme, computer science graduates had the greatest earning potential when women’s representation among them was the most limited. Such a correlative relationship was observed for neither biology nor engineering graduates.

    The results were reported as part of the story titled “Exploring Gender Bias in Starting Salary Offers Among Stem Majors” that ran in the February 2017 issue of the NACE Journal.

    Figure 1: Average Starting Salary Offer, by Major: 1974-2011

    Source: “Exploring Gender Bias in Starting Salary Offers Among Stem Majors,” NACE Journal, February 2017, National Association of Colleges and Employers

    Figure 2: Percentage of bachelor’s degree completions represented by women, by major: 1974-2011

    Source: “Exploring Gender Bias in Starting Salary Offers Among Stem Majors,” NACE Journal, February 2017, National Association of Colleges and Employers