Could Wage Disparity Discourage Women from Engineering?

May 5, 2013
Nearly 60% of college students ages 18 to 24 are women, with the biggest differences in enrollment rates at private colleges and those in the southeast U.S. So with all these ladies pursuing higher education, why don't more choose to study engineering? It could be that they're paid less upon graduation.

Nearly 60% of college students ages 18 to 24 are women, with the biggest differences in enrollment rates at private colleges and those in the southeast U.S.

So with all these ladies pursuing higher education, why don't more choose to study engineering? Women are in the minority in nearly all engineering programs, and mechanical engineering has the worst numbers with only 7% female enrollment.

One cause could be the wage disparities women face once in technical fields.

Now, Rice University researchers have explored the root causes of this wage disparity in engineering. What they've found is that engineering training is based on a dualistic ideology — in which the field is artificially split between "hard" technical subfields such as product design and "soft" organizational functions such as logistics and staff management. Women are more often tasked with the latter. When they are tasked with more technical endeavors — the more valued and highly compensated work in engineering — they're underpaid.

"Dualisms are false representations of engineering ... as engineers' work ... involves technical and social activities simultaneously," says lead researcher Erin Cech.

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