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The Gender Pay Gap and its Determinants across the Human Capital Distribution

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Working Paper Number CES-23-31


This paper leverages a unique linkage between American Community Survey data and postsecondary transcript records to examine how the gender pay gap, and its proximate determinants, varies across the distribution of education credentials in the 15 years following graduation. Although recent literature focuses on career disparities between the highest-educated women and men, we find evidence that the pay gap is smaller at higher education levels. Field-of-degree and occupation effects explain most of the gap among top bachelor’s graduates, while labor supply and unobserved channels matter more for less-competitive bachelor’s, associate’s, and certificate graduates. This heterogeneity in gap levels and mechanisms is especially large in the first decade following graduation. Our results suggest that contemporary early-career gender inequality lacks a unified explanation and requires different policy interventions for different subgroups. More research is needed to understand the larger unexplained gender pay gap among less-educated individuals.

Page Last Revised - July 5, 2023
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