Could a Male With a High School Degree Earn More Than a Female College Graduate?

01/27/2011 11:23 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Christie Garton Social entrepreneur, author and founder of the 1,000 Dreams Fund

Kara Apel is an University Chic blogger and undergrad at the University of South Carolina. Previous to her work at U Chic Apel was the former managing editor of The Daily Gamecock, the official student newspaper on campus

Looking back on our nation's history, it would seem women have made remarkable gains both in the workplace and in higher learning. For example, in 1975 only 11 percent of women earned bachelor's degrees, but by 2000 that number had more than doubled. Unfortunately, even though more and more women are attending college and receiving degrees, this doesn't necessarily help in the workplace. In a 2002 U.S. Census Bureau report, numbers indicated that a man with a high school diploma earned approximately $1.4 million between the ages of 25 to 64. For men with bachelor's degrees, this number rose to $2.5 million, and for men with professional degrees, their total earnings soared to $4.8 million.

Women's salaries are a completely different story. The U.S. Census Bureau notes that women with high school diplomas make about $1.0 million, which is only 40 percent less than what women with bachelor's degrees make ($1.6 million). Women with professional degrees are only expected to make $2.9 million. So, in theory, a man with a only a high school diploma could possibly make more money than a woman with a bachelor's degree.

According to a 2007 Business and Professional Women's Foundation report, women lose about $523,000 to the wage gap throughout their careers. The report goes on to state that the wage gap between women and men "has narrowed by only one-third of a penny per year" since 1963. "At the current rate of change," states the report, "the wage gap will not be eliminated until 2039."

One look at these numbers is enough to make any woman ill -- especially those of us (including myself) who are going to owe more than $20,000 in loans after college. Although one could argue women are more likely to pursue careers with lower pay such as elementary education, a college degree should still mean something. A man should not be able to graduate high school and walk away with more money than a woman who worked hard and put in an extra four years of education at an accredited university.

One blogger recently stated that the federal government, the media and school districts should do a better job of telling the truth about college to students. "When taking on a serious load of debt, knowing that a high paying job may not be waiting for you is information that is too important to keep hidden," she insisted.

However, a woman should not be discouraged in pursuing whichever career path she chooses. Yes, it is disheartening to hear that we would only be making a little bit less with just a high school diploma, but what's the point if you're not in a career you love? Sure, making money is a more of a need than a want, but so is finding a job that you're excited to wake up and go to every morning.

Despite what some may say (and I might be naïve in believing this wholeheartedly), a college degree isn't just a piece of paper. It means you put in the hard work necessary to obtain a degree and learn even more about the world and yourself than you would have if you hopped on the shop line right after high school. After all, I would much rather be a journalist and makes $20,000 a year than be stuck at a job that I hated for the rest of my life.

At the end of the day, having a passion for your job is really what matters, regardless of salary. While the wage gap demonstrates how far we still have to come, it also gives us a clear indicator of what we as female college students need to do once we put our school days behind us: rise up to mentor and support the next generation and work hard to lobby our way into Washington and corporate board rooms across America.