The gender pay gap between graduates is largest among alumni of the most selective universities in the UK, a think tank report suggests.
Women who studied at Russell Group institutions earn around 17% less than their male peers who also graduated from one of the elite universities, according to a new analysis.
The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) report says the particularly large difference in the earnings of male and female graduates from Russell Group institutions was “striking” and a “surprise”.
Women earn less than men in all provider types, but the gender pay gap between graduates from post-1992 institutions is only 5%.
In specialist institutions, the difference is 16%.
Russell Group and specialist universities should investigate the reasons for the large disparity – which does not result from differences in subject choices – and take action to address it, the think tank has said.
The overall graduate gender pay gap is not accounted for by subject of study, type of university attended, prior attainment, social background or ethnicity, the report concludes.
The think tank is calling on employers to ensure their recruitment and remuneration policies are fair, and it says the Government should ensure its evaluation of universities does not rely on data with gender biases.
Report co-author Bahram Bekhradnia, HEPI’s president and founder, said: “‘The critical conclusion arising from this study is that to make judgements about the value of universities and their programmes on the basis of the salaries earned by graduates is badly misguided and is ultimately sexist in its implications and effects.”
The HEPI report explored the various possible reasons for the gender pay gap.
It found men are much more willing than women to meet with future employers, obtain internships and ask for referrals.
“It may be that by building a rapport with future employers, men are in a better position than women to gain better paid jobs, and to negotiate higher salaries. This may be exacerbated by possible unconscious employer bias against female candidates,” the report suggests.
The paper also found that male students rate earning a high salary and seniority as most important, whereas female students are more likely to identify stability, a good work-life balance, company culture and contributing to a cause they feel is worthwhile.
“These differences in aspiration may contribute to the pay disparities between male and female graduates,” the report says.
Report co-author Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at HEPI, said: “Higher education provides women with an earnings premium compared to their non-graduate counterparts but, as this new analysis shows, female graduates still consistently earn less than male graduates.
“There are some areas of particular concern, such as the large pay gap between male and female graduates of Russell Group universities. However, even among groups where the gap is smaller, such as among graduates of post-92 universities, the gender pay gap persists.”
She added: “We should be clear, particularly to the significant number of young women who now enter higher education, that the graduate gender pay gap is unacceptable and work together to combat it.”
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