Women students are demanding government action after a new survey showed men with the same tertiary qualifications start earning more after just one year.
Women's Affairs Minister Pansy Wong said the survey showed a wage gap opened quickly between graduates with bachelor degrees -- up to an average 6 percent after the first year and up to 20 percent in some professions after five years.
Ms Wong's ministry carried out the survey, using Inland Revenue data to track the graduates' income.
"The bottom line is that a bachelor's degree held by a woman should be worth the same in the marketplace as one held by a man," she said yesterday.
Sophie Blair, national women's rights officer at the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations, said the situation was a breach of basic human rights.
"It is absolutely outrageous that our female graduates, who do the same degrees as their male counterparts, get paid less right from the start," she said.
"For a long time many have pointed to the high participation of women in tertiary study as evidence of equality between men and women, yet this research shows that in reality there is still a high level of inequity in New Zealand society."
Ms Blair said the Government needed to set out "a real plan of action" to address the pay gap.
Ms Wong said there would be a new 10-year study of up to 6000 graduates to get "new insights" into the situation.
Ms Blair said all that would do was produce evidence of what was already known.