By John Zivinskis, Assistant Professor , Binghamton University, State University of New York

Jennifer Gillis, Professor of Psychology, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Kelli K. Smith, Assistant Vice President for Student Success, Binghamton University, State University of New York

The big idea

Women and Asian students are significantly less likely than their counterparts who identify as men or white to receive payment during internships. This finding is based on an analysis of 2,410 responses to the National Survey of Student Engagement. The trend held up even when student background, academic major and the type of college attended were taken into account. 

These data were part of a set of survey questions that measure the quality of students’ internship experiences. Our study was published in the July/August issue of the Journal of College Student Development.

Using statistical analysis, we found that the calculated odds of women getting paid during their internships were 34% lower than for the men in the sample. For Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander students, their odds were 50% lower than for white students.

Women and Asian students are significantly less likely than their counterparts who identify as men or white to receive payment during internships. (K Subiyanto/Pexels)

Why it matters

Our finding that women were less likely than men to land a paid internship adds to concerns about the gender wage gap. Data show a wage gap of 27% between women and men.

What still isn’t known

Since the sample size was small, it remains to be seen if the results would be the same using a larger sample reflective of the nation. This sample included only 12 four-year institutions. Data from additional colleges and universities and two-year community colleges would enhance the research on this topic.

Black and Latino students were included in our analysis, and their likelihood of receiving an internship was not statistically different compared with white students.

Furthermore, it also remains to be seen how interventions such as bias training for career counselors, transparent data on internship pay and salary negotiation training might come into play.

Bias training could help counselors understand the role that their identity – as well as the identity of the students they advise – may play in how they support students. Transparent data could help students make more informed decisions on which internships to take and which ones pay. Salary negotiation training may also prepare students to advocate for themselves when seeking compensation for internships.

What other research is being done

Our research on the roles that gender and ethnicity can play with paid internships aligns with research the National Association of Colleges and Employers is doing. Results from their Student Survey Report, which includes more students and more institutions, include similar disproportions of interns receiving pay based on gender and race.


Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

This article previously published at The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Visit