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Does gender pay gap exist? Right out of college, says new study.

The study focused on recent college graduates with few of the differences that can eventually explain some gender pay gaps – such as children, marriage, and different work experience.

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Vice President Joe Biden meets employees of Catanzaro's Pizza and Subs where he stopped to pickup pizzas for campaign volunteers at the local Obama For America office on N. Bechtle Avenue in Springfield, Ohio, Oct. 23. Equal pay for women has been a focal point in the 2012 presidential election.

Barabara J. Perenic/AP

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At the second debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Oct. 16, 24-year-old teacher Katherine Fenton asked the candidates for their positions on equal pay for women.

She was unprepared for the shower of online criticism that began even as the debate aired live.

“Katherine Fenton, questioner, brings up the feminazi leftist lie that women don’t get paid equally,” tweeted conservative author Matthew Vadum.

Despite ongoing criticism that the gender pay gap does not exist, a report released Wednesday cites new research indicating that the gap is stubbornly persistent.

The research, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), narrowly focused on recent college graduates with few of the differences that can eventually explain some pay gaps – such as children, marriage, and different work experience. It showed that female graduates make 18 percent less than their male counterparts one year out of college.

Even adjusting for differences such as career choices, the study, “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” finds what it calls “an unexplained seven percent pay gap.”

“This report goes behind the pay gap to fully understand its causes,” said Catherine Hill, the AAUW director of research and a study author, in a statement. “We hope the new figures will help employers understand the problem and implement measures to pay their workers fair and honest wages.”

What makes the study particularly important is that it focused in narrowly on men and women one year out of higher education, says Francine Blau, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Most studies focus on the overall labor force, which contains many factors that influence differences in pay, such as career choices, college majors, children, and marriage. But, Professor Blau noted in a conference call with reporters, “this study focuses on a relatively homogeneous group: all recent graduates and all young.”

Other factors that influence pay, such as previous experience, also are less important here, she says.

“This pay gap is not merely the result of women’s choices,” say Ms. Hill and co-author Christianne Corbett in the study.

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