Salary and Sex 1
Running Head: Gender vs. Salary Expectation
The Gender Wage Gap: Gender vs. Salary Expectation of Psychology Majors
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Salary and Sex 2
Recent research has supported the claim of a gender wage gap. The current study’s purpose was
to compare salary expectations of men and women psychology majors across education levels.
Participants were 28 psychology majors (17 female, 11 male). A survey was given to all
participants to collect data on the issue. Inconsistent with prior research, women did not report
significantly lower salaries than men upon career entry. Future graduate students did report
significantly higher starting salaries than those choosing to not attend graduate school. Possible
explanations for results are included.
Salary and Sex 3
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2006, women who were full-time wage
and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $600, or about 81 percent of the $743 median
for their male counterparts. Why do men make more money than women? There has been much
research done on the topic of the gender pay gap. Research in the 1980s explained the gap due to
the college majors’ differences. Gerhart (1990), for example, found that
gender differences in major could account for 40–50% of the wage
gap between recent male and female college graduates. More
recent studies see a decline in college major differences,
accounting for only 10% of the overall wage gap, due to more
women entering math and science fields traditionally held by men
Blau and Kahn (2007) state that the gender pay gap can be
“statistically decomposed into two components: one due to gender
differences in measured characteristics, and the other
“unexplained” and potentially due to discrimination.” Measureable
factors are referred to as “human capital” and include factors such
as education and experience, as well as measures of occupation,
industry and union status (Blau & Kahn, 2007). Borden and Rajecki
(2000) study confirms that psychology majors obtain jobs in a wide
variety of settings, but rated their preparedness for these job
settings as low when based on their education. When it comes to
the matter of graduate school and gender, it seems there are also
differences found between the sexes. Singer, Capsin, and Doson
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(2005) found that women graduate students reported that they
expect that “women were more likely than men to expect child-
rearing to disrupt their careers, to make their career choices based
on job flexibility, and to expect lower maximum salaries.”
Discrimination is another factor that must be addressed when
discussing the gender wage gap. According to Graham, Hotchkiss,
and Gerhart (2000) there are three types of discrimination to
consider: pay discrimination, job placement discrimination, and
hiring discrimination. Factors also to be considered are access to
hours worked, overtime work, and supervisory positions (Joy,
2003). Discrimination seems to be becoming less of an issue, given
that employers are adhering to legislative laws, however,
discriminatory behavior may account for as much as six percent of
the salary difference between men and women (Graham, Hotchkiss,
and Gerhart, 2000).
Given these explanations, the aim of this study is focused on
the factor of starting salary expectations. It has been shown that
psychology undergraduate students are overly optimistic about the
amount of the starting salary at the bachelor, master, and doctoral
levels (Briihl, 2001). Flippin and Ichonno (2003) showed that there is
in fact a gender wage gap in their comparisons of males and
females salary expectations for both one and ten years after
graduation. “Both males and females explicitly expect a gap ranging from 7% to 11%”
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(Flippin and Ichonno, 2003). Heckert et al., (2002) found that across 50 different majors, women
estimated a lower starting salary than did men for themselves.
Heckert et al. (2002) adds that the reasoning behind this as: “The
significantly lower salary estimates of women at entry and at career
peak may be the result of a recognition that temporarily leaving the
workforce for childrearing and selecting a work environment that is
more willing to accommodate to parental demands may come at a
Other research has said that women’s lack of accurate salary
information is a cause of the current gender wage gap. If women
enter the workforce expecting to make less than men, than it should
not be surprising to find a greater gap later in time (Martin, 1989).
Martin (1989) found that even after providing participants with entry
level pay information, women still expected to earn less money than
men. Given the current research on this topic, we decided to see if
the same would hold true on psychology majors. We hypothesize
that undergraduate male psychology students will report a higher
starting salary expectation than women.
Twenty-eight psychology majors from a middle-sized urban
school completed the questionnaire. They were recruited through
the use of a sign-up sheet. The majority were either Caucasian
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(49%) or African-American (43%). The ages of the participants
ranged from 18 to 26 years old. The majority (62%) reported being
18 years old. Their were 17 females and 11 males that participated.
The participants were mostly freshman (72%) who received extra
credit upon completing the study. Figure 1.1 better shows the
division of class level.
Salary and Sex 7
Freshman Sophmore Junior Senior
Series1 20 4 2 2
Materials and Procedure
Students were given a short nine question survey and asked to answer each question
honestly. The questions included general demographic questions (such as age, race, sex, etc.)
and also questions about their current school situation (such as class level and major). They
were also asked if they planned to attend graduate school (meaning obtaining a master’s or
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PhD) or not. The participants then circled what they believed their expected starting salary
would be upon graduation from either their undergraduate program or their graduated
program. The range choice given is as follows:
Below $20,000 $20,000-$29,000 $30,000-$39,000
$40,000-$49,000 $50,000-$59,000 $60,000 +
The students were given the survey at the same time and had up to 30 minutes to
complete it. All were finished within the allotted time. After the participants were finished with
their survey and had turned it in, they were debriefed and any questions had were answered.
Data was analyzed using analysis of variance (ANOVA) to
access differences across sex and expected education level. The
dependent variable being addressed was salary expectation. Since
participants were only tested once, this was a between subjects
design. Our initial finding did find that there was one level that was
significant, F (3, 24) = 4.44, (p = .013), in our 2 X 2 design. Because
F (1, 24) = 6.07, (p =.021), there was a main effect of intended
education level, with more participants intending to attend graduate
Estimated Marginal Means of Salary Expectation
school and expecting a higher starting salary. Figure 1.2 shows the
means of this in better detail, with participants intending to go to
graduate school intending to start with a salary closer to $50,000.
Estimated Marginal Means
Salary and Sex 9
Salary expectation averaged across sex did not show
significant results, F (1, 24) = 6.07, (p > .05). The salary expectations
of males and females across education levels also did not show
significant results, F (1, 24) = 2.00, (p > .05). Data also indicated that
salary was an important factor when considering a job with 86% of
participants answering yes.
This study attempted to analyze students’ perceptions of
staring salaries upon graduating with a degree in psychology.
Psychology undergraduate students in this study may have been
either slightly underestimating or overly optimistic about their
starting salary. The National Center for Education Statistics (2001)
reports the average starting salary of people with a bachelor’s in
psychology as being $31,800. The majority of our participants
reported either $20,000-$29,000 (28%) or $40,000-$49,000 (27%).
However, participants reporting an intention to attend graduate
school seemed to be closer to the average starting pay. The
majority of participants reported either $40,000-$49,000 (43%) or
$60,000+ (38%) which would be in the right range of $40,000 to
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$70,000 depending on level of education attained and specialty
pursued. Undergraduate students may need to be better educated
on the types of careers and salaries available to them upon
graduating with a degree in psychology. According to Briihl (2001),
students need to promote the skills that they obtain with an
undergraduate degree in psychology, including communication, time
management, social and information processing skills.
More specifically, the issue of the gender and salary
expectation was what this study was addressing. Our hypothesis of
male psychology majors reporting a higher starting salary
expectation than women was not supported even though most of
the current research reports this. This could possibly be due to the
fact that the current generation is better educated than from years
past. Since most of the research was from five or more years ago,
generational effects could be a possible explanation. Also, our
experiment was designed to look at salary expectations. Apparently,
women do not expect to make a lower salary than men, even
though that is what is happening in the real world.
There are some limitations that need to be addressed. Our
sample size was rather small with only 28 participants. Also, we did
not have an equal gender distribution, having more females than
males. The participant’s class level may also be considered a
limitation, with further education equaling more information about
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current economic situations. Three of are participants were
psychology minors, not majors, which may have skewed our results
slightly, but due to time restraints, they were included. Furthermore,
our study did not take into account other possible variables such as
future family plans or particular industry which may have given us
Since our findings are contrary to the current research, further
studies should be done to address the current generation. Other
possible studies could address different populations, including race,
age, and socio-economic status and the possible similarities and/or
differences between them. A longitudinal study would also provide
valuable information, perhaps looking at expected salary while in
school and then after the first year of employment.
(2006, August). Average annual salary of bachelor's degree recipients employed full time 1 year after graduation, by
field of study. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from National Center for Education Statistics Web site:
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(2007, September). Highlights of women's earnings in 2006. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from U.S.
Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site: http://www.bls.gov
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