Computer programmers, the media and casual observers alike often debate the question of why there are so few women programmers compared to men. Indeed, only 19 percent of computer science majors are female, which directly corresponds to the proportion of programmers who are female: 20 percent.
Whatever the reasons for the gender disparity in programming, at least to begin with, there's no actual salary difference between female and male programmers. According to a new study by the American Association of University Women, there is no statistical difference between female and male programmers' salaries one year out of college. The same holds true for women who go into engineering, mathematics and physical sciences.*
[The study] examined data on approximately 15,000 graduates to estimate the effect of gender on wages. Their sample was restricted to those under 35 years old receiving a first bachelor’s degree, in order to avoid confounding factors which affect labor market outcomes. Regression analysis was used to estimate wage differences, after controlling for the following choices and characteristics: graduates’ occupation, economic sector, hours worked, employment status (having multiple jobs as opposed to one full-time job), months unemployed since graduation, grade point average, undergraduate major, kind of institution attended, age, geographical region, and marital status.
The study authors did find that, on average, across all industries, women earn 6.6 percent less than men. But for "math, computer, and physical science occupations," one year out of college, the researchers found "no significant gender difference in earnings."*
Some studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that the 6.6 percent difference could be because women tend to be less inclined to negotiate their salaries or ask for a raise than their male counterparts. Those who are assertive (but not too assertive!) in this department, however, are rewarded for their efforts, actually getting more promotions than their male counterparts, at least in the business world. Increased awareness about salary negotiations and the widespread availability of self-help negotiation tools for women (or people of either gender) could help eliminate that remaining 6.6 percent difference.
The false perception that female programmers earn less than males, Quartz points out, is probably one of the factors discouraging women from joining the field. But studies like this one help to disprove that myth. In the future, in fact, women's involvement in tech will likely be a non-issue, as evidenced by increasing numbers of women signing up for computer scinece courses. Last spring, for example, more women enrolled in introduction to computer sciences classes at Berkeley than men, SFGate reports. As Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, told SFGate, "We are starting to see a shift."
*These two paragraphs have been edited from the original version, to clarify the limts of this particular study and that the overall 6.6 percent pay gap is statistically signficant.