Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Data on Women's Earnings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report on the 2009 earnings of women (PDF). This annual report always makes for fascinating reading, and this year's edition is no exception. Surprise, surprise! On average, women are still earning less than men. However, I was able to find some interesting tidbits about the variations within that overall average.

Start with this chart, based on figures from the report, that indicates the earnings of women at various levels of education, measured (on the vertical scale) as a percentage of the earnings of men at the same level of education.

Given these categories for level of education, the more education a woman gets, the greater the disparity in her earnings. It looks as if it's pointless for women to get more education, doesn't it?

Yet, paradoxically, it turns out that (again, on average) women actually gain a greater advantage than men for each additional level of education they attain. The following chart, also based on figures from the report, shows the advantage of various levels of educational attainment for men and women over workers of the same sex who did not complete high school.

The difference for women is not great, but it's consistent, and it's greater (1.3%, 2.1%, and 11.5%) with each additional step up the ladder.

Now, here's another chart based on data from the report. This one looks at the wage differences for different age brackets. Like the first chart, it shows women's earnings as a percentage of men's earnings (in the same age bracket):

You'll note that younger and older women earn a better-than-average percentage of the male wage, whereas middle-aged women earn less. I'm only guessing, but I think that younger women earn more because they have higher expectations of fair treatment and because the earnings-limiting lifestyle choices that many women make have not yet taken a toll on their wages. I also speculate that older women have acquired enough work experience to make up for some of the ground that they lost earlier, and this explains their higher earnings.

Now, here's one more chart derived from the report, yet again showing women's earnings as a percent of men's. In this case, the average is broken down into various levels of hours worked per week:

This chart reveals that women who work part-time earn higher wages than men working the same number of part-time hours (except for those women who work fewer than 5 hours). This difference partly reflects the kinds of jobs that women and men are working in. For example, some women who work part-time as nurses on night duty earn very impressive per-hour wages. It may also reflect the attitudes of employers toward workers. That is, working part-time may seem a more conventional behavior for women workers, whereas male workers who choose this arrangement may be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as less committed to their careers.

I doubt these disparities will ever vanish, but we do seem to be making progress. A female friend of mine who got her bachelor's in chemical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University about 15 years ago told me that there are now more women in the JHU School of Engineering with the same given name as her as the total number of women enrolled when she was an undergraduate.

Finally, here are some occupations in which the percentage of female workers has increased by more than 10 percent between 2007 and 2009. I limited my analysis to occupations with a total workforce of more than 100,000 in order to exclude small-sample occupations, for which the male-female percentages are likely to be unreliable:

Occupation Name Increase
Medical Transcriptionists 23.7%
Library Technicians 23.2%
Instructional Coordinators 21.3%
Demonstrators and Product Promoters 13.3%
Administrative Services Managers 12.1%
Telemarketers 11.6%
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists 10.6%
Paper Goods Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders 10.2%

This blog entry is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Doshna.


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