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Study Sees Early Career Wage Growth Gap by Gender and Race

Andrew Clarkwest, Tresa Kappil, Deena Schwartz, Marissa Hashizume, and Julie Strawn; Abt Global


February 2, 2022

This report from the Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions (CTOT) Study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, examines the 10-year wage growth experienced by younger (under age 35) workers after they first enter a mid-level occupation. Findings show large disparities in wage growth by gender and race, even among otherwise similar workers entering the same occupations.

A mid-level occupation requires preparation beyond a high school degree, but less than a four-year college degree and is the kind of occupation that career pathways programs typically focus on training individuals to enter.

The study, Wage Growth Disparities by Gender, Race/Ethnicity Among Entrants to Mid-Level Occupations in the United States: Findings from the Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions (CTOT) Study, finds that:

  • Wage growth disparities widen steadily over the course of those 10 years
  • When examining race and gender in tandem, Black and Hispanic women experience the least wage growth of all groups
  • Wage growth disparities are pervasive across occupational clusters
  • Women experience less wage growth than men despite being more likely to go on to obtain additional postsecondary degrees
  • Wage growth disparities cannot be explained by differences in other career-related outcomes, such as gaps in time spent not working or in advancement to higher-level occupations, indicating the importance of wage-setting and promotion processes within mid-level occupations.

These findings lead to several general implications for stakeholders such as policymakers and practitioners who design and implement training programs that aim to help participants enter and advance in new career paths. This study did not test the causes of these disparities, but patterns of disparities suggest the importance of further study of:

  • Experiences of new entrants to mid-level occupations
  • How employment practices in mid-level jobs present barriers to advancement for women and workers of color
  • How transitions between occupations vary by gender, race, and ethnicity

Understanding the causes will enable stakeholders to develop strategies to combat the sources of the disparities.