Male students expect to earn significantly more than their female counterparts after graduation, a study has found, suggesting that the graduate gender pay gap could be a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Men anticipated that they would earn £23,082 a year after graduation, compared with £21,221 for women.
The gap was even bigger when the participants were asked how much they thought they would be earning after 10 years: male students said £44,867, while female respondents expected £38,508.
The finding was part of a research project, Earning Expectations of University Students: Evidence from English Business Schools, carried out by John Anchor, head of the strategy and marketing department at the University of Huddersfield Business School, and Martina Benešová, a doctoral candidate at Huddersfield. They surveyed the salary expectations of more than 1,000 British students at two English business schools in 2011 and 2012.
Dr Anchor said that there was a “tendency for [men] to inflate their expectations…which is a sort of ego issue”. But it could also be because students were accurately informed about their future earning prospects, he explained at the annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education held last month in Newport, South Wales, as data showed that male graduates were paid more than women.
The results demonstrated the “danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy” as graduates earned the salaries they expected, Dr Anchor later told Times Higher Education.
He added that almost all the salary estimates that were stripped out of the results for being unrealistically high had come from men.
In March last year, research revealed that across all 17 degree subject areas, recent female graduates were being paid less than men – casting doubt on the theory that male graduates are paid more because more men than women study subjects that lead to more lucrative positions.
“Despite having the same Ucas entry tariff points, attending the same type of institution and studying the same subject, men are commanding higher salaries than women,” wrote Jane Artess, research director of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit in an issue of Graduate Market Trends.
Dr Anchor also explained to the conference that the business school survey revealed that white students expected to earn less than students of some other ethnicities.
White respondents anticipated a salary of £21,523 on graduation, less than black British students (£24,486) and Asian British students (£23,659).
These expectations were “a little bit out of line with reality” because white graduates tended to earn slightly more, Dr Anchor said, and added that the discrepancy was something for which he currently had no explanation.
The research also found that students’ expected salaries fell as they progressed through university.
First-year students hoped for just over £23,000 on graduation, but by their final year, they had revised down this estimate to £20,535.
“The expectations of final-year students are generally a bit lower and that may be because they are better informed about what is going on in the labour market – they’re probably applying for jobs and surveying labour market data,” Dr Anchor explained.