This thing about young women earning more…

…from Time seems to have real legs.

Some women earn more money than some men. There, I said it.

My sleepy little post on a nearly identical story in July generated an impressive 80 hits in the week after the Time story came out (you have to realize the scale I’m on, here, reader-wise). Now a very cogent explanation from the economist Heather Boushey on Slate is helping carry the clarification load (though we’re getting crushed by the Time story, which has a 6-to-1 Facebook-“like” ratio on Boushey’s post).

Her explanation is simple and true: the “study” reported by Time — an unpublished claim by an outfit that provides “game-changing insight” on “emerging shifts in the consumer landscape” — simply found that young, unmarried, childless women in most metro areas earn more than men. The reason is that, among that population, women are substantially more likely to have completed college.

The education gap is important, though not news. The earnings result is widely misinterpreted — or mis-promoted, in Time‘s case — to say something about employer discrimination, which is doesn’t, just like the overall gender gap in earnings is often misinterpreted as a measure of employer discrimination. In fact, the situation for young men is even worse than all that, because the data being used for these studies excludes people (men) in prison, who have both low education and low earnings.

Among young adults who have completed college, and are working full-time and year-round, women  make 80.7% of men’s earnings at the median. I’m not saying that is how much employer discrimination there is the gap includes discrimination in hiring, promotion, and wage setting, as well as women’s family status, and occupational “choices”/choices, among other factors.

Here’s that breakdown again in detail:

Source: My graph from March 2009 Census data. The Black dots show location of distribution midpoints (50th percentile).

12 thoughts on “This thing about young women earning more…

  1. Hey Philip,
    Thanks for the shout out to Time. I was curious why you thought our story promoted the idea of “employer discrimination.” We clearly stated it was about education. The actual quote is “He attributes the earnings reversal overwhelmingly to one factor: education. For every two guys who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do.” I’m guessing you’re taking issue with the headline? it’s a tad hyperbolic perhaps, but not inaccurate for the story.


  2. Hi Belinda,

    Great to hear from you. You are right — the story did not directly promote the idea that the advantage for women means there’s no discrimination. But because most people interpret the gender gap as being about discrimination, that is how most (many?) people in the media and blogosphere were interpreting the story. So I conflated my complaint with Time’s hyping with a common misunderstanding about the gender gap.

    The story raised good issues — the numerical education advantage for women, and the motherhood penalty they pay — which are good to talk about.

    But, I’m afraid I have to go beyond “tad hyperbolic” on the headline, given it “applies only to unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities…” The headline “At Last, Women on Top” doesn’t reflect that. Actually, there is nothing in the story to show that this narrow subsection of workers hasn’t always shown a female advantage — there is no trend or change reported in the data. Yet the story says, “there’s evidence that the ship may finally be turning around.”

    (Thanks for thanking me. If I you got a nickel for every reader I drove over to your site you might owe me a cup of coffee.)


    1. Ah well we could argue the merits of a completely faithful headline over a come hither one forever. But are you really suggesting that it was ever thus and young women have always out earned men?


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