A report published Wednesday by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) revealed that women experience an earnings gap just one year out of college, with men making an average of $42,918 one year after graduation while women make an average of $35,296.

"These figures represent a female/male earnings ratio of 82 percent, which is slightly higher than it was in 2001 when, among the same group, women earned just 80 percent of what their male peers earned," the report said.

The report also anticipates a number of arguments critics of the pay gap often offer as explanation. "But women still earned an unexplained $13,399 less than their male colleagues did each year, even after the authors considered and controlled for factors that had a significant effect on salary, including specialty, age, parental status, additional graduate degrees, academic rank, institution type, grant funding, publications, work hours, and time spent in research."

"We know that gender discrimination remains a serious problem," Catherine Hill, co-author of the report and director of research at AAUW, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. "Some part of the unexplained gap may result from discrimination."

Indeed their findings were backed up by a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that when academic faculty were given identical, they found the female candidates to be less competent and offered more mentoring and a greater salary to the male candidate. The report also found that gender of the person making the hiring decision had no effect on the discrimination.

"That doesn't mean discrimination is conscious or overt -- it could be subconscious -- but it is no less a problem," said Lisa Maatz, AAUW director of public policy and government relations. "Pay differences at the beginning of a career can have long-running implications throughout a career."

Maatz went on to address salary negotiation, saying that while AAUW is supportive of teaching women smart salary negotiation techniques, "I do want to make the point that this study shows that people really can't negotiate the way out of the pay gap."

The report also calculated the impact the gender pay gap has on student debt. Because women and men pay roughly the same amount for college but graduate and earn less straight out of school, student debt puts a greater squeeze on women's pocketbooks.

"Just over half of women were paying a greater percent of their income in student loan debt than they can comfortably afford," said Christianne Corbett, report co-author and research associate at AAUW.

They also find that while discrimination may account for some of the gap, there are differences in men and women's majors and career choices. "When we look at women’s and men’s earnings by undergraduate major, clear patterns emerge," the report said. "Graduates who earned degrees in female-dominated majors tend to get jobs that pay less than the jobs held by graduates who earned degrees in male-dominated majors. For example, one year after graduation, the average full-time-employed female social science major earned just 66 percent of what the average fulltime-employed female engineering or engineering technology major earned ($31,924 compared with $48,493)."

AAUW outlined a number of steps to counteract the gender pay gap. They recommend employers conduct internal gender pay studies and make pay systems more transparent. They encourage Congress to pursue college affordability strategies, like fully funding Pell grants and ensuring students have accurate information about student loans. They also endorse the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would "create incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach and enforcement efforts."

AAUW said they sent the report to the campaigns of both President Barack Obama and Republican candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney. While President Barack Obama expressed strong support for the Paycheck Fairness Act and made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed in office, Romney's campaign has remained uncommitted on fair pay legislation, once even responding to a reporter's question on whether the governor supported fair pay legislation with, "We'll get back to you on that." The campaign later clarified that Romney supported equal pay and "is not looking to change current law."

At the second presidential debate earlier this month, Romney answered a question about whether he supported equal pay with a questionable anecdote during his governorship about how he "took a concerted effort to go out and find women that had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of womens’ groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us binders full of women."

Reporters later determined that the initiative to collect binders of qualified women's resumes was actually taken by the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) and after both candidates pledged in that election to make efforts to hire more women in the cabinet.

[Equal pay photo via Shutterstock]