The pay gap among graduates of elite business schools is widening, according to new research from Bloomberg Businessweek’s biennial survey of MBA graduates. On average, female grads from top MBA programs now earn 93¢ for every dollar paid their male classmates. At about a third of the top 30 U.S. business schools, women earn less than men—sometimes far less. Female MBA graduates from the class of 2012 at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, earned 86 percent of male wages, while those at Stanford Graduate School of Business earned 79 percent.
That’s a dramatic turnabout. In 2002, women at the top 30 MBA programs earned 98 percent of what males earned. That fell to 94.1 percent in 2004 and never really rebounded. In 2012 the figure was 93.2 percent. “The gap numbers at the beginning are not very large and can be mostly accounted for by differences in grades, course selection, and the fields people are starting in,” says Marianne Bertrand, an economics professor at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, citing results of studies on compensation among female MBA graduates from her school. “What is much more striking is how much that gap grows over time.”
In 2010, research from Catalyst, a nonprofit group that focuses on expanding opportunities for women in business, found that women MBAs were being paid, on average, $4,600 less in their first job than men, a disparity that grows to $30,000 by mid-career, says Anna Beninger, a senior associate in Catalyst’s research department. Even women placed in high-potential leadership development programs often miss out on the so-called hot jobs, or projects most critical to career advancement, Catalyst found. Says Beninger: “Women’s careers lag behind men from day one.”
Women MBAs are drawn increasingly to careers in technology, consumer products, consulting, and entrepreneurship, say placement officers. Maryellen Lamb, director of MBA career management at Wharton, says a larger proportion of women at the school are going into fields such as retail and consumer products, industries that generally don’t offer the payouts they might see in investment banking or private equity. “The inequity is not necessarily gender-specific, it is more industry-specific,” she says.
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