Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Women’s Earnings versus Men’s

One commenter on yesterday’s post said “Women can work in most fields at near wage parity with men. Some exceptions still apply.” Let’s a look at that. The facts are that women’s compensation consistently lags behind male compensation and has done so for at least the last 33 years. “Near wage parity” is a bit of an overstatement. Here is a graphic that shows median weekly income for men and women from 1979 to 2011. I am able to touch this year by using first quarter data in all years. Note that these numbers are in constant dollars, thus with inflationary factors removed.

The gap between the sexes has narrowed somewhat. In 1979 the median incomes were $157 apart, in 2011 $63. This means that female earnings were 61.5 percent in 1979 and 82.9 percent in 2011 of male earnings in the aggregated. But in this period female income increased in total by $55 (from $251 per week in 1979 to $306 in 2011—remember we’re dealing with constant dollars); in that same period male income has actually dropped, from $408 (1979) to $369 (2011). Female income grew at an annual rate of 0.62 percent, male income dropped at a rate of 0.31 percent. If the male income had matched the female income’s growth, the differential would be $191 (men over women) rather than $63, and women would then be earning 61.5 percent in 2011 (self-evidently) of what males earn, not 82.9 percent—thus the same gap would be present as already was present in 1979. The increasing parity between the sexes is therefore in good part mirage if it is achieved by men funding it with declining wages. The common good would be served if both series grew positively, but the female more rapidly than the male.

The sad truth is that increased participation of women in the workforce—while acting to raise female compensation, has also depressed the level of male income. And this makes “market sense” if not “human sense”: females represent a lower-cost competition to the male; males are therefore less assertive in claiming just wages because women are in effect a more affordable choice for the employer. Income parity, in other words, is being achieved, to the extent that it is, by depressing male earnings. It’s not exactly a win-win situation. The source data come for this graphic came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Databases & Tools facility.

Let’s next look at how the sexes were doing recently (1Q of 2010) by sector:

This chart tells us that women consistently earn less than 75 percent of men, never mind the sector, the only exception being sales and office occupations. I’m particularly struck by the fact that female compensation stands at 74 percent in management, professional, and related occupations—an area where we consistently work with our heads and not with our hands. The source of this chart is BLS data here.

Let’s go deeper into that and look at two medical professions. Here I chart the earnings of Pharmacists and of Physicians and Surgeons for the period 2003 through 2009. These data are from the BLS Women in the Workforce: A Databook series, the last of which, for 2011, is available here.

Now the gender of a pharmacist has very little if anything to do with his or her knowledge of this profession, hence the differences are striking. In 2003 female pharmacists earned 89 percent of what their male counterparts earned. In 2009 75.5 percent. The closest convergence came in 2005, when the two median weekly earnings were just 7.1 points apart, females earning 92.9 percent of what males earned.

When we get to physicians and surgeons, the gaps are even bigger: 2003 - 59%, 2004 - 52.2%, 2005 - 60.9%, 2006 - 72%, 2007 - 59.1%, 2008 - 64.4%, 2009 - 64.2%.

Near parity? Some exceptions? No. What I see here, by and large, are the operations of market forces, thus of nature. Female earnings are growing at the cost of male earnings and due largely to competitive forces that, if they are mitigated at all, are mitigated minorly by weak regulatory interventions. Our own better, higher nature, which expresses itself in seeking justice and fairness, has yet to achieve much of a beachhead.


  1. An excellent example of numbers not telling the whole story:


    which explains why men make more. And it is not just victimization.

    and here, that shows while things are almost exactly the same: single, childless and starting a carrier, women make more:


    As the first article points out, women often make choices to lower their earnings based on their life choice.

  2. National statistics, one hopes, are pretty accurate. They're just numbers. Explaining what the numbers mean is up to the public. I have my explanation and give the reader all the tools to check if my numbers are correct. The whole story? It eludes grasp. You should really start your own blog, russel, and present your views to the public in the clear rather than hidden in comments.

  3. I never said the numbers were inaccurate, I said that they did not tell the whole story.

    The assumption you have made is that women make less money based on some outside influence, such as discrimination.

    I have presented an alternate view to explain the same exact data, there is no refutation of the data.

    As for starting my own blog... I have tried, it is just not that compelling of a pursuit unless you have regular commenter. Feels very much like an echo chamber.

    So, unless you object, I will continue posting comments here.

    If you do object, I am also more than happy to stop.

    However, I have noticed a few of my comments have been grist for your own postings, so I hope I provide some value to you (and other readers) by posting alternate views of the same subject.

  4. My guess, russell, is that you'd have plenty of readers if you went on for a while...but most people, while they get something from reading such things (because they do keep coming back) lack the time, energy, or words to engage in dialogue...