The pay gap among law graduates continues to exist, despite more women enrolling in law according to new research. In the latest Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) study, major findings suggest overall males’ starting  salaries were 9.4 per cent higher than those for females. However, when the graduates’ chosen fields of education were factored in, the gap narrowed to 4.4 per cent.

“The bottom line is 4.4 per cent,'' report author Edwina Lindsay said. ''It's minor, but it’s there.” The areas of study that led to professions with the highest graduate salaries were optometry, dentistry, engineering and medicine. Mid-level graduate salaries were earned by students who studied law, education, paramedical degrees and computer sciences.

The latest enrolment figures reveal 3.4 per cent of law graduates are female compared to 2.4 per cent of male law graduates. The previous year’s survey revealed the starting salary for female law graduates was $50,700 compared with $55,000 for men. With the results of the new report, it is evident the gap continues to exist despite an increase in average annual salary, with the average for males now $60,000 and female law graduates continuing to trail behind. Workplace Gender Equality Agency research executive manager Carla Harris says it is disturbing that women's salaries have stalled, especially since the majority of university graduates are women. Dr Harris says the lack of salary transparency may make it difficult for a woman to judge whether she is being underpaid for the same work as men.

“The lesson here is that the gender pay gap continues to have a very real impact on the bank balance of young women starting their careers”

Dr Carla Harris (WGEA Research Executive Manager)

Statistics from 2013 show the gender wage gap across the board in Australia is 17.5%, leading to the conclusion that the pay gap increases with time in the workforce. Figures released in February 2014 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics  show that, on average, full-time working women’s earnings are 17.1% less per week than full-time working men’s earnings (a difference that equates to $262.50 per week). The national gender pay gap has hovered between 15% and 18% for around two decades and is influenced by a variety of factors including industrial and occupational segregation, a lack of women in leadership, the fact that women still do most of society’s unpaid caring, a lack of senior part-time and flexible roles (which disadvantages women who are more likely to work part-time or flexibly), and direct or indirect discrimination.

The 2012 GradStats Report revealed that the starting salary of male law graduates was around $4,300 higher than female law graduates, which is almost a doubling of the $2000 disparity recorded in 2011. In the same report, law was ranked third, behind architecture & building and dentistry, as an occupational area that had the most pronounced gender pay gap for graduates.

Read the full report here.