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Reverse Gender Gap Confirms Individual Choices and Skills Determine Earnings



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Time Magazine reports that the much-ballyhooed “wage gap” — that’s the term used to describe the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings — has reversed in some metropolitan areas, so that women are now earning more than men:

According to a new analysis of 2,000 communities by a market research company, in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group….

Here’s the slightly deflating caveat: this reverse gender gap, as it’s known, applies only to unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities. The rest of working women — even those of the same age, but who are married or don’t live in a major metropolitan area — are still on the less scenic side of the wage divide.

Time, while lamenting that it’s only one segment of the female population that’s out-earning men, explains that different levels of education (younger women are far more likely than their male peers to have a college degree) are driving this phenomenon. Given trends in education, as well as the increasing prominence of economic sectors that are dominated by women, America can expect the wage gap to continue to wane, and an increasing number of women to out-earn men. 

This is certainly good news insofar as it should put to rest the idea that the traditional wage gap has been a product of sexism. As this new research shows, it’s women’s (and men’s) attributes and career choices that determine earnings. Yet there’s something troubling about Time’s tone, which suggests that we should all be celebrating the idea of women dominating the workplace. To the extent that this trend is driven by men losing jobs and remaining out of work, and young men failing to attain the skills needed to meaningfully contribute to the economy, this is not good news at all. 

Of course, we all want women to have the opportunity to compete and succeed in whatever profession they choose. But we want the same to be true for men. Furthermore, given that some women still wish to stay home or reduce their workload in order to spend time raising children, women’s higher earnings may actually be a symptom of hardship: More women are having to work more since the men in their lives can’t provide for the family alone or because they are providing for themselves.

Statistics about who earns what are interesting in what they tell us about our changing economy and society. Certainly, it’s worth celebrating women’s continued gains and increased access to prestigious, high-earning jobs, but we shouldn’t mistake these statistics as simply a barometer of the role sexism plays in the workplace. And all of us — men and women alike — should be concerned if men’s prospects dim.



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