Increasing the number of women in engineering and other STEM professions could be the key to remedying the persistent income gap between the sexes in Australia.
A new study claims that female engineering graduates in certain fields enjoy higher levels of remuneration than their male counterparts at the outset of their careers despite still remaining grossly underrepresented in the profession as a whole.
The 2013 survey, conducted by Graduate Careers Australia (GCA), found that female graduates under the age of 25 in the areas of industrial and mechanical engineering took home $71,000 per year on average in their first occupations - $2,700 more than their male peers, who earned $68,300 on average.
This stands in stark contrast to the prevailing gender wage gap amongst recent graduates, which is tilted heavily in favour of males. The study found that male university graduates under the age of 25 enjoyed starting salaries that were on average 9.4 per cent higher than those of their female counterparts.
While male graduates in civil engineering earn more than their female peers at the outset of their careers, the difference was still relatively slight, with men earning $63,400 on average as compared to $62,400 for women.
The study, called An Analysis of the Gender Wage Gap in the Australian Graduate Labour Market, compiled a total of 8,185 responses from Australian resident bachelor's degree graduates under the age of 25 who were currently in their first full-time occupation. The survey encompassed 23 different fields of tertiary education.
According to the principal author of the study, Edwina Lindsay, the underrepresentation of women in engineering and other lucrative STEM professions, is directly culpable for the sizeable gender disparity in starting salaries for young graduates.
As evidence for this, she pointed to the fact that while recent male graduates earn more than nine per cent more on average than their female peers overall, this figure narrows to 4.7 per cent on average when income disparities are examined within individual fields of tertiary education.
Men are strongly represented in STEM subjects, while women gravitate instead to the humanities, which translates into lower levels of remuneration upon entering the workforce.
Only 3.7 per cent of female respondents to the survey studied engineering, as compared to nearly a quarter of male respondents. By contrast, 11.6 per cent of female respondents to the survey studied humanities subjects, as compared to only 5.7 per cent of males.
"If females decide to enrol in these STEM subjects...then the aggregate 9.4 per cent gap will be reduced for future generations," said Lindsay.