The pay gap between female and male graduates a decade after university is not as wide as previous studies have suggested, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). The independent think tank, which conducted a major study into the area alongside researchers from Harvard University and Cambridge University, found the annual earnings gap is 23%, 10% below what data in the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Labour Force Survey predicts.

The Nuffield Foundation-funded research also revealed the median earnings of women in England around 10 years after graduation were just over three times those of non-graduates. Elsewhere, the study found male graduates earned around twice those of men without a degree.

"This study shows the value of a degree, in terms of providing protection from low income and shielding graduates from some of the negative impact of the recent recession on their wages. We find this to be particularly true for women," said Jack Britton, a research economist at the IFS.

The research also looked into the recession's impact on university leavers' earnings and discovered graduates suffered "proportionately less" during the economic downturn than non-graduates in terms of their salaries. The findings implied that having a degree provides some protection from "bad labour market outcomes".

But the study found female graduates fared "proportionately worse" than their male counterparts over the course of the recession. It said: "For example, female graduates in their late twenties saw their real earnings decline just as, in normal times, they would have expected rapid earnings growth as they gained experience."