Monday, February 05, 2007

More Women Top Their Husbands in Earnings

Sunday's Los Angeles Times ran an article discussing trends in women's earnings relative to men. The article focused on married couples, suggesting that as women gain increased opportunities in education and the workforce, the proportion of women outearning men -- and of those becoming the primary family breadwinner -- is increasing. Here's the introduction:

Aaron Frazier married his college sweetheart Danielle four years ago knowing that she out-earned him by $10,000 a year. Now, that gap is even bigger.

But even though Aaron's accountant salary today is half the $90,000 his wife makes monitoring clinical drug trials, it still doesn't cause any friction.

"I think both of us are pretty modern," said Danielle, 29, of Antioch, Tenn.

"She does more cooking, and I do more housework," said Aaron, 30, adding that if they had a baby, he would start out being the primary child-care giver.

Couples such as the Fraziers — with the wife bringing home most of the bacon — are becoming increasingly common and accepted among the nation's twenty- and thirtysomethings, the result of shifting education and job market patterns, and new attitudes toward work, family and gender differences.

That could help accelerate the growth in the number of marriages in which women are the sole or primary breadwinners. Census Bureau data show that 25.3% of women in two-income marriages bring home the bigger paycheck, up from 17.8% in 1987.

Younger women, now graduating from college at higher rates than men and aggressively recruited by many employers, are becoming anything but desperate housewives. Some, like Danielle Frazier, out-earn male peers starting with their first jobs.

The salaries of college-educated women have risen much faster than those of male graduates, up 34.4% since 1979 versus 21.7% for men, according to Catalyst, a New York-based research group.

Among twenty- and thirtysomethings, more women than men have college degrees. The gap is widest among 25- to 29-year-olds, according to the Census Bureau, with 25.5% of men holding a bachelor's degree as compared with 32.2% of women. Women now account for close to half of medical and law students, funneling them into lucrative careers.

The Labor Department projects the education disparity will widen in coming years.
Read the whole thing. The article discusses how the increasing earning power of women is reshaping gender roles in the household. For example, the piece cites survey data from 2005 showing the 27 percent of men are accepting of their wives supporting them financially. The figure is higher for men below 50 years of age, at 35 percent.

What's more interesting -- and what will have dramatic implications for the future of the economy and gender relations -- is the data reporting broader indicators of increasing upward mobility of women in education and the workplace:

Women are graduating from college at a higher rate than men . . .

Percentage of bachelor's degrees earned by women:

2003-2004: 57.4%
2013-2014*: 60%

. . . and make up nearly half of law and medical school enrollees . . .

Women enrolled in law school:

1985-1986: 40%
1995-1996: 44%
2005-2006: 47.5%

Women enrolled in med school:

2002: 46.7%
2006: 48.7%

. . . and are increasingly earning bigger paychecks than their husbands.

Two-income households with wife as primary breadwinner:

1987: 17%
2004: 25.3%


Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, American Bar Assn., American Assn. of Medical Colleges.

I discuss these trends every semester in my American government courses. While these numbers are encouraging, women still have a way to go in achieving full equality in American society. The top echelons of the corporate sector remain dominated by men (at the time of Carly Fiorina's departure from Hewlett Packard, just a half-dozen or so women headed Fortune 500 companies), and women's representation at the top levels of governmental power remains well below that of men. Nancy Pelosi's rise to the Speakership in the U.S. House is a sign of changing times, of course, and a Hillary Clinton presidency could change the prospects for women in power dramatically.

I've blogged previously on the topic of gender equality and women in politics. Take a look especially at
my earlier entry on the changing face of the "mommy track." See also my entries on the political progress of women coming out of the 2006 elections, and on the prospects for women (and minorities) in politics heading into the 2008 presidential election.

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