In Search of the Glass Ceiling: Gender and Earnings Growth among U.S. College Graduates in the 1990s
Gender-typical educational choices and the "glass ceiling" are widely believed to explain why older women earn far less than observably similar men. Using large panels drawn from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) National Survey of College Graduates and other data representative of U.S. college graduates from the 1990s, the author documents the small role of personal choices and finds evidence contrary to the predictions of both human capital and discrimination models. Rather than the differential wage growth rates predicted by these models, she finds similar average rates of earnings growth for women and men across numerous specifications, which suggests that the gender gap in earnings is determined by factors already present early in the career. Her findings reveal slower earnings growth in only two subsets of women: young mothers, who experience slower earnings growth during the early career relative to men the same age, but then compensate with faster growth later in their careers; and women with exceptionally high earnings levels. The latter are underrepresented among workers winning the largest promotions, when compared to similarly successful men the same age, and face a glass ceiling at the very top of the career ladder.