Underpaid women and their men

October 26, 2011

New data on U.S. incomes, poverty, pensions and philanthropy all show a common economic reality — women are still getting shortchanged. Do men care?

Men’s median total income in 2010 was $1.54 for each dollar women received, my analysis of new U.S. Census data shows. The median — half make more, half less — was $32,137 a year for men, $20,831 for women.

Ignoring investment and other income, at the median men were paid $1.29 to the dollar earned by women in 2010. Men made $47,715 a year, women $36,931, a difference of $207 per week.

Among nonprofit executives and managers, men make much more than women in the same occupations.

Women run a majority of organizations with budgets under $1 million, but as budgets grow the ranks of women shrink. At nonprofits with budgets of $50 million or more, only one in six is run by a woman and as a group those women are paid 25 percentage points less than men, according to the 11th annual nonprofit pay study by Guidestar, a project I long ago urged on its founder.

All of which raises a question: Why do men, especially married men, put up with this? Why aren’t men in the vanguard of demanding equal pay for women?

It is unfair to the women they love. Viewed in purely selfish terms, pay discrimination limits a family’s resources.
And what about fringe benefits? Many couples lose the value of a second health or other benefit plan because plans designed in a one-income era are often incompatible with one another.

We have been through two generations since women began to break out of the narrow list of white-collar occupations readily open to them — teacher, nurse, librarian, secretary.

Some women now work in better paid blue-collar jobs that long had a 100 percent male quota, including machinist, mechanic and stevedore.

The first women who fought to become cops are now retired, some with granddaughters patrolling the streets. Women captain jetliners, while men serve coffee to passengers. My wife runs a quarter-billion-dollar charitable endowment, the kind of job she was bluntly told three decades ago a woman would never hold.

While the pay gap has narrowed some, the official data still show that whether they are sales clerks or CEOs, servers or surgeons, women overall make less than men doing the same work.

Yet women are still more likely than men to be poor, especially in old age, the new census data show. Among single women, one in nine lives in extreme poverty with income below half of the poverty line.

Before Ms. magazine was a gleam in Gloria Steinem’s eye, men had quite a deal. Married middle-class men often controlled the purse while enjoying the pleasures of a full-time homemaker who might work a few hours here and there for “pin money” they could spend on themselves. Mothers of small children seldom worked full-time.

Married couples with children in 2009 worked 492 more hours than in 1979, a 15 percent increase, census data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute shows. The extra money comes at a price: less time for the joys of parenting, coupling and community engagement.

Why have men quietly given up all those perks, and the power that goes along with being sole breadwinner, for three-quarters of an extra paycheck? For fathers, that can mean half an extra paycheck or less once childcare costs are covered.

Since most men’s wages have been flat to falling it takes two incomes to get by. IRS data show that average income in 2009 was back at the 1997 level when inflation was taken into account. In 2010 median household income fell again, new census data show.

The women’s movement encouraged self-reliance — not being dependent on the goodwill and good health of a husband — as well as self-realization. Equal pay for equal work was central.

The price of pay discrimination stalks retirement, too, since less pay means less in old age. Among Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom are now 47, single women have a retirement savings shortfall nearly twice that of single men, the Employee Benefits Research Institute estimated.

Among men age 65 or older, median income in 2009 was $25,409, two-thirds more than the $15,209 median for women, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee reported in April. Retired men averaged nearly twice as much from pensions as women ().

Married men and fathers can help close these economic chasms. Will self-interest motivate us to challenge enduring economic discrimination against our wives and sisters, our mothers and daughters? Or will the gender income and pay gaps still be around two generations from now? (Editing by Howard Goller)

PHOTO: A worker installs parts onto the dashboard for the new Chevrolet Cruze car as it moves along the assembly line at the General Motors Cruze assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio July 22, 2011. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk


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Back in the late 70’s to 80’s, the gap seemed to be narrowing; since then, I believe it has held pretty constant. In my technical field, I have seen a huge difference in pay, technical grade, and promotions between the men and women in the company. Sadly, those differences almost always end up with less competent and less talented men being paid more, bumped to a higher pay grade, and promoted more often. I have worked for many male managers who, I suspect, only kept their jobs because of one or more women working for them and who they never managed to promote.

Posted by MidwestVoice | Report as abusive

This subject has been addressed many times by economists who point out that median income is rather meaningless. One must look at the distribution of occupations in which men predominate versus the ones in which women predominate. Men predominate in occupations with more risk of injury or death and are compensated accordingly.

Posted by hallofrecord | Report as abusive

You ask “Why do men, especially married men, put up with this? Why aren’t men in the vanguard of demanding equal pay for women?” But you don’t answer the question or even guess. My guess is that men, at heart, don’t think their wives’ work is worth more, that they remain surprised by whatever income the wives pull in. My own, very progressive and egalitarian spouse more often than not will use the first person singular pronoun in sentences like “I paid good money for that car” or “I don’t like to see my money wasted” when, in fact, he should be saying “we” as the money is OUR money. This is a reflex artifact from our parents’ generation when Dad ruled the bank account. The Millennials will certainly see things differently.

Posted by robinherman | Report as abusive

This article is an excellent portrait of why more men should favor equality in pay for women who do equal work. I know four couples where the man either chose not to work in order to raise the children and manage the household or got laid off, can’t find another job, and relies on his wife’s income to support him, his wife, and their children.

The U.S. Supreme Court is holding women back by its rulings on why women can’t file a class action lawsuit against Walmart, a rogue employer and known to be so, and why Lily Ledbetter couldn’t collect back pay from her company because supposedly she should have filed her lawsuit “within 180 days of her first discriminatory paycheck,” even though Ledbetter didn’t know she was being discriminated against in pay (and therefore pension) until someone sent her an anonymous note from the payroll dept. telling her she was training younger men to do her same supervisor job and those younger men with less seniority were making significantly more money than she was.

The U.S. Supreme Court conservative justices are themselves sexist, refuse to recuse themselves when that would be appropriate, and continue to hold us back.

Posted by mariaconzemius | Report as abusive

> “Women run a majority of organizations with budgets under $1 million, but as budgets grow the ranks of women shrink.”

– Here in your article is a part of the answer to your question!

Women, by their social nature, do better than men in many modern employment roles. However, women tend to prefer varied roles in smaller, more personal organisations; rather than the specialised positions in wealthier mega-corporations typically staffed by naturally ambitious men. Women tend to be motivated more by job-satisfaction and friendship; and less by money (as long as needs are met), or by recognition and promotion-prospects, than men (so that a woman’s balance of requirements, and the way they judge their success, is often different).
How does this fit with other people’s observations?

Too many people are shooting in the darkness, essentially playing poker; when they appraise performance and negotiate wages. If incomes are going to be equalised, and if women are going to be empowered; we will all need better data!

One of my concerns with your data (as with all other income equality data I have ever seen) is that some of the apparent inequalities might actually arise for legitimate reasons, due to gender roles. (Can you tell a man who works continuously, that he must not be promoted during the absence of a colleague on maternity leave? I fear that this question may stir up strong feelings from both sides of the debate, but I don’t think we can seriously expect any pragmatic employer to promote an absent woman who may never return to the workplace [many women on maternity leave never do], over a man who continues working hard throughout that whole time.)

No offense here: we need mothers! But we need to compare like-with-like. So we need to tease out the real inequalities from the illusory ones. We need to make sure we are not actually “comparing apples with oranges”, in our numerical comparisons of male and female careers and incomes; seeing the results of different effects to the ones that we’re attempting to isolate – these effects being: prejudice, true inequality, employers taking advantage of a weaker negotiator etc.

Can anyone get hold of a male-female income data set that stratifies data according to age, marital status, numbers of children/dependants and job description? Even better if also grouped according to the industry of the company they work for… For example, I’d like to see a side-by-side comparison of single 25-year-old childless women with single 25-year-old childless men, doing similar job roles (e.g. with identical job descriptions within similar companies). I have a suspicion that gender income inequalities for this query may differ substantially from gender income inequalities for older groups (including married and divorced people) with more dependants… I want to see these different groups ranked from greatest to least income-inequality (or at least, to see representative samples at different levels of inequality).

Is it possible to approach the census bureau and get hold of a custom data set, to take a closer look at this? Or, can someone please prod the census bureau to publish some better-presented data, on gender income equality?

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

I don’t see it in my field (computer hardware and software engineering). In fact after factors like risk aversion, flexibility, skill-level, skill-set, capability, performance level under pressure, overtime availability, personal networking, and ability to work well with peers are factored in women (and targeted minorities) in the companies I’ve worked for have better long term prospects for internal promotion and job security while maintaining compensation parity within the scope of the aforementioned qualifications. Of greater concern is lack of opportunities for women getting back into the workforce after taking a few years for focused parenting in order to give their children the best possible start. This problem is amplified by the tendency to have children later in life where the restart is conflated with ageism and the likely need to re-align ones career path based on changes in technologies and business methodologies.

Posted by JustRealistic | Report as abusive

@Mathewslyman, the reason my column included the Guiidestar 990 data, which is about as solid as data gets because it is reported under oath and the reporting rules are clear, is that it goes to the very issue you raise.

The 990 data is for women in the same positions and is sliced by organization size.

This data shows very clearly that women get paid less and that as the size of the organization grows there are fewer women and they are paid significantly less.

Posted by DavidCayJ | Report as abusive

Sorry for missing that! I got buried in the census data report you cited first, and thought that was the basis of your article.

The Guidestar data you cite are better on gender inequality. Guidestar asks $349 USD for the full report (is this the report you’re referring to?), but there’s a sample here:
http://www2.guidestar.org/ViewCmsFile.as px?ContentID=3854
The gender sample data are just before half way through this document.

The figures that surprised me the most from this sample report:

WOMEN: $36,613
MEN: $73,183
These figures are specifically for institutions with budgets under $250,000; so this comparison confounds my previous criticisms (we’re clearly NOT comparing primary school educators directly with university chancellors – though I still wonder whether any independent education consultants are being compared with primary school head-teachers). I’d still like to see more stratification, more significant data sample sizes etc.; but with inequalities like this one (and with such a consistent gender disadvantage across groups), I cannot argue with your general conclusions.

Women are generally underpaid compared to their male counterparts in some particular industrial sectors and organisational budget strata, and there are almost no industrial sectors or budget strata in which women hold an advantage over their male counterparts. Most employers are getting excellent value for money from their female employees, and some industries need to clean up their act… (I’m admitting this for the first time: perceptions of real-terms gender income inequality are not just “sour grapes”…)

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

There are legitimate reasons why men make more than women as noted above. Besides men being able to put more hours and dedication into their careers because they are not mothers, there is also the ‘good ole boy’ network that women do not have. Men look out for their collegues, help them negotiate better salaries and generally “have their backs”. This has an influence on pay and promotion. Women do not have such a network. I have seen this network help my male collegues get promotions and better pay time and time again.

Posted by r.felder | Report as abusive

It is shameful that tax-exempt institutions discriminate against women.

Posted by sylviatownsend | Report as abusive

How about job applications do not ask gender or race? Let people work side by side and be paid and promoted based on merit. If the company owners/administrators are found to be paying unfairly, the difference can be made up to the employees retroactively with money recovered from the administrators’ salaries. Until it stings in a policy-maker’s pocket, things will not change.

Posted by bonmom | Report as abusive