Male Harvard College graduates who are entering the workforce next year
will command substantially higher starting salaries than their female
classmates, according to results of a survey of 901 seniors
by The Crimson.
The median first-year base salary for male members of the
Class of 2007 is $60,000, compared to $50,000 for females, according to
the survey results.
Part of the gap stems from the fact that males are more likely
to enter lucrative sectors such as investment banking. Males also are
more likely to graduate with degrees in economics, computer science,
and other fields that are attractive to employers. But even controlling
for industry sector and academic background, males appear to earn about
8 percent more than their female classmates, according to The Crimson’s
The Crimson has shared the results of its survey and its
statistical analysis with economists and political scientists who
specialize in gender issues. Experts agreed that the evidence shows a
significant gender gap in first-year wages.
“I think this is important information that warrants
attention,” Associate Professor of Public Policy Hannah Riley Bowles
an expert on gender at the Kennedy School, wrote in an e-mail, though
she warned that the $10,000 gap “sounds a little high.”
Yet even “small differences in starting salary can have big implications over the course of a career,” Bowles added.
“I think the results look robust,” wrote Torben Iversen
holds the Burbank professorship of political economy at Harvard and who
has written extensively on gender inequality.
“The bottom line is that there are large differences in
starting salaries for Harvard grads directly entering the labor market
and these differences are correlated with sex,” economics professors Claudia Goldin
and Lawrence F. Katz
wrote in a joint e-mail to The Crimson.
The Crimson conducted its anonymous questionnaire online using
the iCommons polling software. To make sure that no one took the poll
more than once, respondents entered their Harvard ID numbers as
authentication. In total, more than half of the senior class
participated in the poll.
According to the survey results, about 22 percent of graduates
are headed straight to graduate school—with men and women continuing
onto advanced degree programs at almost identical rates. Exactly half
of respondents said they had a job lined up for next year. The
difference between men and women in terms of job-finding success was
But evidence of the gender gap emerged when seniors reported
their first-year base salaries. About two-thirds of graduates who have
jobs lined up disclosed those figures.
The gap between male and female wages is largest in the
technology sector. The median male salary in that industry is $74,000,
compared to $50,000 for females.
Within most sectors, the gender gap is actually quite narrow.
In banking and consulting, the median salary for men and the median for
women are identical.
But women are less likely to have jobs in high-paying sectors lined up post-graduation.
Among men who are entering the workforce next year, 58 percent
are taking jobs in the finance and consulting industries. Among Harvard
women in the workforce, only 43 percent are going into finance and
The disparity is especially stark in the investment banking
sector. More than a fifth of Harvard men who are entering the workforce
are headed to investment banking jobs—compared to just a tenth of
Meanwhile, women are more likely to take jobs in lower-paying
fields such as education and public service. Among respondents with
jobs for next year, 14 percent of women and only 8 percent of men are
working in education. Approximately 9 percent of women will be working
in government or public service, compared to just 3 percent of men.
“The gender gap in starting salaries reflects substantial
gender differences in which employment sector is chosen,” according to
Goldin and Katz, who have co-authored several journal articles on the
topic. “In general, starting salaries are very similar by sex within
“The big question is why male and female graduates going
directly into the labor market end up in different sectors,” Goldin and
Other experts suggested alternative explanations for the gender gap.
One of the economists who reviewed The Crimson’s data, Linda C. Babcock
of Carnegie Mellon University, has found that men are more
likely to negotiate their starting salaries, while women are more
likely to accept their employer’s first offer. In a study of Carnegie
Mellon business school graduates, Babcock found that 57 percent of men
“asked for more”—while just 7 percent of women tried to negotiate.
The gender gap is narrowest in sectors that publicize
information about starting salaries, according to research by Babcock
and the Kennedy School’s Bowles. “So, one thing that career services
[at Harvard] could do to help diminish the gap is to provide students
with good information about the appropriate compensation standards for
the types of jobs they are negotiating,” Bowles wrote in an e-mail.
According to Iversen, another possible explanation for the
gender gap is “statistical discrimination.” Employee training can be an
expensive endeavor, and companies are fearful that female workers will
take leaves of absence for maternity and child-rearing after the
training process is over. That might make companies more wary of hiring
women. “Controlling for career choices, I believe most of the gender
difference in pay is due to statistical discrimination,” Iversen wrote
in an e-mail.
“Since most of the gap is due to the way labor markets work,
combined with inequality in family responsibilities, it is probably
unrealistic to expect Harvard to have a big impact,” according to
Iversen. But he added that Harvard “has a responsibility to educate
about the underlying causes of gender inequality, which in turn may
affect public policies.”
MIND THE GAP
Women in the Class of ’07 say that Harvard-run programs are already making a difference.
Megan E. Barragry ’07, a Social Studies concentrator, applied
to the Radcliffe Institute’s Mentor Program
as a sophomore, and she was
paired with a Class of ’88 alumna who now manages a private food label.
The alumna offered guidance throughout the job hunt, and
Barragry has landed a position at a Washington, D.C.-based consulting
firm for next year.
Students have launched their own efforts to bridge the gender gap.
Economics concentrator Teresa A. Hsiao ’07 is headed to a
financial management training program at General Electric after
graduation. But, she said, “I hadn’t really thought about [finance] at
all before I got to Harvard”—even though her mother is a financial
Hsiao observed that men on campus have a head start in terms
of financial literacy. She asks rhetorically: “When you’re 10 years
old, is your dad talking to you about the Wall Street Journal?” Males,
she says, are more likely to talk about stocks at a young age.
Tracy L. Britt ’07, an economics concentrator who is headed to
Harvard Business School this fall, says she had “no prior knowledge” of
the stock market when she arrived on campus. She grew up on a produce
farm in Kansas, and her only interaction with the financial world came
from hearing her father talk about soybean futures.
But Britt accumulated first-hand experience in the financial
world through summer internships. As a rising junior working at Bank of
America, she observed that there was just one woman on a 20- to
30-person cash equities trading floor. “I never felt discriminated
against,” Britt says, but she did begin thinking about ways to give
women more opportunities in a “male-dominated” industry.
Last fall, Britt and Hsiao launched Smart Woman Securities
which attracted 64 women to a 10-week seminar series taught by
“The biggest thing was just getting women used to the
terminology,” Hsiao said. “A lot of people came in who didn’t even know
what a stock was.”
In April, members of Smart Woman Securities put their newfound
financial acumen to work. With seed money from private donors, they
launched a $10,000 investment fund that will be managed entirely by
Harvard women—an experience that might make future female graduates of
Harvard more likely to seek out finance-sector jobs.
Will efforts like this one encourage more women to enter the
investment world, narrowing the gender gap in the long run? As Britt
says, “only time will tell.”
-Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at email@example.com.