September 26, 2010
Single women outearning their male counterparts? Not so fast
Since last week was Unmarried and Single Americans Week, I thought it fitting to look at some contradictory statistics about single women's salaries I've seen floating around lately.
But first, let's revisit just how prevalent not being married has become. According to the federal government, 43 percent of all American adults are not married. And in 2007, a hotly debated New York Times analysis of U.S. Census data put 51 percent of all U.S. women living without a spouse and reminded us that in 2005, married couples became the minority of all U.S. households for the first time in history.
Earlier this month, marketing research firm Reach Advisors came out with an analysis of Census data showing that in 2008, single women ages 22 to 30 who didn't have kids were outearning single, childless men of the same age in a majority of U.S. cities. (Not so in the Seattle-Everett metropolitan area, however, where according to Reach Advisors, single young women were making 96 percent of their male counterparts' salaries.)
The conventional wisdom is that twentysomething women are outearning twentysomething men because women are more likely than men to finish college these days (and thus acquire the accompanying know-how and credentials). But as Heather Boushey, senior economist at the think tank Center for American Progress, pointed out in a recent Slate article, studies continue to show that a young woman and a young man in the same job with the same education and work experience aren't necessarily paid the same.
As Boushey reported, "The American Association of University Women tackled the pay gap question this way and found that for college-educated women, the gap emerges as soon as they graduate. Their research shows that a woman earns 5 percent less the first year out of school than a man who goes to the same college, gets the same grades, has the same major, takes the same kind of job with similar workplace flexibility perks, and has the same personal characteristics, such as marital status, race, and number of children. Ten years later, even if she keeps working on par with the men around her -- that is, continues to have the same level of on-the-job experience -- the AAUW found that she'll earn 12 percent less."
Catalyst president and CEO Ilene Lang weighed in on her nonprofit's blog, too. Lang pointed out that a recent Catalyst study found that "women with M.B.A.s start behind, and stay behind, men with the same degree. In fact, women earn $4,600 less than equally skilled men in their first job out of business school -- and this pay gap increases over time. And according to the latest U.S. Census figures, the median salary for women with Master's degrees is actually lower than the median for men with only a Bachelor's."
As Lang concluded her post, "Context is king. Don't lose sight of the larger picture and what still needs to be fixed."
To that I'll add: Don't let the high unemployment rate and the collective sigh of relief those with jobs breathe each week cloud the fact that some of us are making less than colleagues with identical qualifications.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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