The Great (Male) Stagnation

by on June 8, 2011 at 7:25 am in Data Source, Economics | Permalink

You have probably seen something like the following graph which shows real GDP per capita and median male income since 1947. Typically, the graph is shown with family or household income but to avoid family-size effects I use male income. It’s evident that real gdp per capita and median male income became disconnected in the early 1970s. Why?  Explanations include rising inequality (mean male income does track real gdp per capita somewhat more closely), Tyler speculates that the nature of technological advances has changed, other people have speculated about rising corporate profits. Definitive answers are hard to come by.

Here is another set of data that most people have not incorporated into their analysis:

Median female income tracks real GDP per capita much more closely than does median male income. It’s unclear which, if any, of the above explanations are consistent with this finding. Increasing inequality, for example, predicts an increasing divergence in real GDP per capita and female median income but we don’t see this in the graph (there is a slight increase in the absolute difference but the ratios don’t increase). Similarly, we would expect changes in technology and corporate profits to affect both male and female median income equally but in fact the trends are very different.

One can, of course, do the Ptolemaic move and add an epicycle for differences in male and female inequality and so forth. Not necessarily wrong but not that satisfying either.

The big difference between female and males as far as jobs, of course, has been labor force participation rates, increasing strongly for the former and decreasing somewhat for the latter. Most of the female change, however, was over by the mid to late 1980s, and the (structural) male change has been gradual. Other differences are that female education levels have increased dramatically and male levels have been relatively flat.  Females are also more predominant in services and males in manufacturing: plumbers, car mechanics, carpenters, construction workers,  electricians,  and firefighters, for example are still 95%+ male.  Putting these together points to a skills and sectoral story, probably amplified by follow-on changes in labor force participation rates.

Thinking about the story this way also reminds us that the median male or female is not a person but a place in a distribution. The median male in 1970 can get rich by 1990 even though median male income is flat.

Again, no definitive answers, but the raw patterns are striking.

Note: An extra high tip of the hat to Scott Winship who whipped up all of the data during a discussion.

Jeremy June 8, 2011 at 7:35 am

Is it possible that inequality is still the answer, but because the vast majority of the super-rich are men*, the inequality shows up in the male graph but not the female one?

*I’m assuming this to be true, but don’t know for sure

Don June 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This is a comment about statistics just to help with your interpretation of the data… They are using the median measure not the mean. The mean is the average and in the case of using the mean a small handful of millionaires and billionaires could skew the normal distribution of the data. When you use the median you line up all of the incomes and pick the one which is exactly in the middle. Unless you have many many many millionaires in your sample this helps negate the impact of having those with exceptionally high income included. You can do a search for the difference between the mean and the median and find some interesting information about how this works, but without looking at the data myself I can’t tell you to what extent using an average over a median would have an effect on the results.

deinst June 8, 2011 at 7:38 am

See also employment-population ratio by gender . There are a lot more men with 0 income, and a lot fewer women.

Floccina June 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

It seems to me that that men are more likely to work for cash in the non tax sector and so show 0 income despite having income.

ziel June 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

It seems rather obvious that women, who began in earnest to enter the workforce around the same time as male incomes began to stagnate, have soaked up any additional personal income that men might have earned otherwise. It’s unclear how significant the impact of pro-women affirmative action policies are in these numbers, but all large companies are under intensive pressure to “equalize” salaries and in particular to promote women through their ranks. There obviously has to be some impact on men’s incomes, and perhaps enough to show up in these graphs.

Miley Cyrax June 8, 2011 at 9:20 am

“It seems rather obvious that women, who began in earnest to enter the workforce around the same time as male incomes began to stagnate, have soaked up any additional personal income that men might have earned otherwise.”

That strikes me as the simplest and most plausible explanation, not that other things like increased low-wage immigration don’t matter. Also, as women make more money and become more financially autonomous the historical/pre-historical quid pro quo strategy of male provisioning resources for female sexual access becomes less viable, so men start finding other strategies for obtaining female sexual access more favorable (i.e., what some like to call “game”). So increased female incomes will do more than “soak up” male income.

ad*m June 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm

what I wanted to say based on Occam’s razor.

I assume all commenters agree that this was an excellent post by Alex.

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm

It seems to me that the best way to frame this is as catch-up growth. Many, many women were under-utilized 50 years ago, fewer are now.

My hypothesis is that women’s incomes grew faster than men’s for much the same reason as China grew faster than the US.

albatross June 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm

This seems plausible, but wouldn’t we need to know something about numbers of women entering the workforce to have a sense of this? There were women in the workforce before the divergence of the two graphs, for example.

Another interesting complication comes up here. I think we’re talking about measured GDP, in terms of dollar transactions. A lot of the change that happened as more women entered the workforce was not genuine wealth creation, but rather taking off-the-books transactions and making them on the books. To use the simplest example, if Alice stays home with her kids while her husband Bob works, the GDP statistics don’t show any transaction happening to pay for caring for their kids, because no money changes hands, right? But if Alice takes a job and puts the kids in daycare, then suddenly, the cost of caring for the kids has moved onto the books. That hasn’t made the country any richer–the same kids are being cared for in both cases–but now there’s money changing hands and taxes being collected and such, so it looks like the economy has grown when it hasn’t. (Alice may still be adding to the wealth of the country in her work, but simply moving the childcare from unpaid to paid doesn’t make the country any richer.)

Dean Sayers June 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

What about mortgage and credit card deregulation?Working-class owned debt has shot up alongside that disparity in GDP / income.

Ted Craig June 8, 2011 at 10:32 am

That’s more a symptom than a cause. Looser credit has made up for the lack of income growth.

The Anti-Gnostic June 8, 2011 at 7:56 am

“Again, no definitive answers, but the raw patterns are striking.”

Immigration increasing the supply of blue collar (and hence mostly male) labor and women in the workforce, with the latter especially secure behind a barricade of Title VII laws.

John Thacker June 8, 2011 at 8:05 am

Ah, you posted your reply while I was composing mine. I think that the immigration hypothesis is worth studying, though it’s not necessarily proven.

Note that even if immigration retards the growth in median real income in this country, that can happen even if everyone, or nearly everyone, is better off.

The Anti-Gnostic June 8, 2011 at 8:29 am

Yes. I especially like to make that point to blue collar men who just can’t grasp the bigger picture that smart, benevolent economists can. Sure your wages are being driven down by monetary policy and an increase in the supply of your skill set. But just think how much money you’ll save when you get your yard landscaped!

Rahul June 8, 2011 at 8:53 am

The wages don’t matter so much as what you can buy with them. It’d be interesting to see this normalized with some version of a purchasing power metric; not sure which but I feel people have been able to do a lot more with their dollars (relatively) than before and this compensates.

dave June 8, 2011 at 9:20 am

Who do you mean by people though? Certainly not the blue collar men.

My guess is life has gotten worse for them relatively with absolutely up in the air. All of their absolute gains probably come from technological progress over that time period, progress which likely would have happened anyway without cheap immigrant labor.

Rahul June 8, 2011 at 9:33 am

I feel a lot of services which blue collar workers benefit from have stayed cheap due to cheap labor:
Fast food, walmart, hospices, motels, construction and a lot of other sectors depend heavily on cheap labor.

An immigration related quote I read on a law enforcement forum comes to mind. It may not be directly related but shows how even low income Americans are indirectly reaping the benefits of cheap immigrant labor.

A police officer writes:

And furthermore, I was in a section 8 apartment complex the other day. There were about 20 young able-bodied black males standing out front (ALL DAY AND NIGHT).

On the roof there were about 20 not quite so young and not quite so able-bodied hispanic males re-roofing the place. If I was a betting man I’d say 25% might be legal.

Who do you think we should target? The guy that came 1500 miles to get a job or the guy that won’t leave the porch except to cash his welfare check and buy some dope and condoms (that he hasn’t figured out how to use because he keeps knocking up his girlfriends)?

TallDave June 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

But I think we want blue-collar lives to get relatively worse over time. if unskilled labor is increasingly valuable relative to skilled, that probably says bad things about where society is going. On an abolute scale I think it’s generally agreed they are far better, because of productivity gains across the economy.

I was reading a study a ways back which said the large observed improvement in living standards of the poor over the past decade may partly reflect the growth of discount chains like WalMart.

Rahul’s anecdote is also, I think, an important observation: one reason unemployment is so high is that it’s never been easier to not work. 42M people are on food stamps, including at least one lottery winner, and you can apparently get disability payments for things as picayune as a diaper fetish…

Nick Bradley June 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

Well, between 1960 and 1990 15 million immigrants came to this country. Of those, about half came from Latin America alone and I imagine the vast majority of them were blue-collar and below.

Jeremy H. June 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm

The immigration hypothesis has been studied, quite extensively. The most *pessimistic* results are from Borjas:

Floccina June 10, 2011 at 11:27 am

Not just immigration but the mechanization of manufacturing.

John Thacker June 8, 2011 at 8:03 am

The gap between labor force participation rates is much higher between Latino men and Latino women than between all men and all women. In addition, most statistics I’ve seen indicate that a majority of immigrants are male, particularly low-skilled and illegal immigrants.

Therefore, low skilled immigration might be skewing the male numbers in a way that they don’t skew the female numbers.

Thinking about the story this way also reminds us that the median male or female is not a person but a place in a distribution. The median male in 1970 can get rich by 1990 even though median male income is flat.

In particular, if there’s lots of immigration, then everybody can be better off but the median income be stagnant. Everybody already in the country in 1970 can get better off, the new arrivals can be better off than they were in their old country, but the median not really change. (In reality, there’s probably still a hit for the low-skilled already here.)

ziel June 8, 2011 at 8:59 am

True, if the lower part of the distribution has been replaced by low-skill immigrants, pushing citizens towards the upper part of the distribution – but has that actually occurrred? For example, it’s pretty easy to show that the U.S. mediocre performance on international test scores is due to our unusually high levels of under-performing minorities. It should be possible to show at a macro-level that our stagnant incomes are due to more low-skilled immigrants bringing down the average (uh, median).

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Excellent point John

Evie Adomait June 8, 2011 at 8:22 am

It would be interesting to plot the median education for males and females against income.. There are now more women than men at university and college which causes the average education of the median male vs female be different.

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Right – a catch-up point. Women were historically under-educated. This gap has closed and the income shift is just fall out of that

Rahul June 8, 2011 at 8:50 am

How much of this male workforce was immigrants?

It’d be interesting to see similar plots for, say, Canada, Germany or France to see if there is something global about the phenomenon.

Wendy June 8, 2011 at 9:45 am

See my comment below. But I like this idea. It would be a way to test my theory. I suspect the graphs will look similar.

8 June 8, 2011 at 9:10 am

Those lines will reverse when healthcare and education spending are cut as part of a downsizing in government. If taxes were cut and sexist affirmative action curtailed, the lines would reverse as more women exited the work force, thanks to their husband being able to support the family on one income.

How is feminism not the obvious answer? Just look at female labor force participation rates taking off in the 1970s. I remember reading somewhere than an increase in supply will lower the price for a good or service.

The General June 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

When women entered the workforce, they became producers and consumers as well, no? Or do you think firing half the workforce will provide you with higher real income?

Dat_Truth_Hurts June 9, 2011 at 9:20 am

What are most women actually making? Most are beurocratic busybodies or Government employees. The size of government has grown due to full sufferage of women, is it any surprise that the new form of wealth transfer (where it once was husband to wife) is now private sector to the big daddy gov.

8 June 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

They already consumed all the necessities, plus a lot of leisure goods, on the one income. Think housing, food, etc. So for anyone who wants to live in a single-breadwinner family, firing half the workforce is likely a net gain considering declining costs of for homes, plus a small bump in income.

Ted Craig June 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

It’s the decline of the U.S. auto industry. Automakers were the highest paying manufacturers by a wide margin.

mjw149 June 8, 2011 at 9:39 am

I wonder if it’s an issue of data integrity. It’s a lot easier to keep working off the books in traditional male fields (farming, construction, fabrication) than female.

So I think male income is negatively correlated to divorce rates. Alimony payments could lead to an increase in underreported male income (as they look for more income earned off the books through barter or chicanery). At the same time, females would report more income due to alimony and child support. Collecting stats on different states with different laws should show the magnitude of this effect.

I had thought about data integrity regarding lower murder rates in our country. It’s commonly thought that murder is hard to hide, but I wonder if that’s really true. I certainly have no experience with it, but I’d suspect that having a lot of undocumented non-citizens in the US could make unreported murders correspondingly more common.

Wendy June 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

I have a theory that the rise of the knowledge economy was facilitated by increased female labor force participation and increased female educational attainment. My point is not that men haven’t been as or more prevalent in these fields as women; but that there would not have been enough knowledge workers if it hadn’t been for more women joining on.

Because of labour shortages in the knowledge sector, more than in other sectors like manufacturing, wages have gone up. This might (partially) explain the graphs.

I wonder how these graphs would compare to some that Richard Florida’s team has done looking at wages and occupations, or wages and educational attainment.

dearieme June 8, 2011 at 9:54 am

I suspect that GDP per capita is a measure that could easily be improved upon. Who contributes to GDP? People who, by and large, have left High School but not yet retired. So I suggest you plot GDP per (capita of those aged between 18 and 68), say, where an assumed maximum working life of 50 years makes mental arithmetic easier. I can’t have been the first to propose this, so the numbers must surely be to hand?

Ray Ban Eyeglasses June 8, 2011 at 10:00 am

I wonder how these graphs would compare to some that Richard Florida’s team has done looking at wages and occupations, or wages and educational attainment.

Nick Bradley June 8, 2011 at 10:03 am

“Thinking about the story this way also reminds us that the median male or female is not a person but a place in a distribution. The median male in 1970 can get rich by 1990 even though median male income is flat.”

– Women and immigrants entered the workforce, skewing the income distribution to the left — immigrants don’t make much money, and many women are marginal earners for their families and take low-wage jobs (or take jobs in education and health care).

As a result, the median male from 1970 is no worse off in reality — and the growth in his income has not slowed down at all — but statistically the median number is changed.

John Hall June 8, 2011 at 10:04 am

At first glance, your charts seemed to be showing that female income is higher than male income. However, I noticed the charts are indexed to 100 rather in levels. Instead, I should have interpreted it as median female earnings rose faster than male median earnings. This makes sense given the reasons you said.

I’m guessing if you put them all in terms of $, then you would see a convergence of median male earnings and female earnings to real GDP per capita over time.

Sisyphus June 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm

It sounds like you are suggesting that female catch up wage growth captured most of the increases in GDP over the period. That is a reasonable explanation, and it seems like it could be tested by whether male and female wage growth converge as their pay converges for similar work.

That gap has continued to close, as I understand it, and by some measures is now non-existent. If your supposition is correct, we should see male and female wage growth at roughly the same rate as GDP growth at some point in the near future. Note that this does not require women to make the same median income as men because of differing preferences (for whatever reason) for different industries and associated pay, etc., the gap within industries for equivalent experience just needs to be fully closed.

Tyler Cowen June 8, 2011 at 10:16 am

Women are working more, getting more education, aspiring to more, and probably facing less discrimination. The lesson of the graphs is that most of our income growth is coming from non-multi-factor productivity sources, which operate for women (somewhat strongly) but not for men. Just think (those of you who see immigration as mostly a positive-sum game), without women aspiring to more, how much worse would the male real income performance have been?

The Anti-Gnostic June 8, 2011 at 10:31 am

As thrilled as I am that there are more women in the workforce to run the HR/benefits departments, practice law and staff government offices, this modern experiment in putting men and women in head-to-head economic competition with each other (with the government as not-so-neutral referee) exacts a lot of social costs.

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I kind of want to put this guy in a contract negotiation against my wife and watch him get destroyed.

noway June 8, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Yawn. Contracts are negotiated by businessmen. Lawyers simply type up details, and fuss over things people care about only at a secondary level. Any lawyer who talks up their business contract negotiating skills as ferocious are like 12 year old black belts telling people how tough they are.

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm


Rahul June 8, 2011 at 10:33 am

I’m confused. If women aspired for less wouldn’t the male income performance have been better? , if at all?

weichi June 8, 2011 at 11:03 am

I think that Tyler is pointing out that whatever logic leads a person to conclude that adding immigrant workers is a positive-sum game is highly likely to lead that person to believe that adding female workers is also a positive-sum game.

DK June 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

Now, why don’t I see lefties coming with their standard explanation for everything: “if there are any differences between any groups, they results from discrimination against one of the group”?

Miley Cyrax June 8, 2011 at 11:00 am

No DK, if it weren’t for the ubiquitous patriarchy and misogyny, the gap would be even bigger. Anything men can do women can do better. It’s a wonder men are able to earn any wages at all. GRRRLLL Power!!11eleventy

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Isn’t that the most obvious explanation? Women were discriminated against before, so as the discrimination they face has lessened, their incomes have grown quickly?

The Anti-Gnostic June 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm

That’s half right at best, since your hypothesis dosn’t address male wage stagnation. What explains stagnant or falling prices for male labor is an increase in supply which appears to be from two sources: immigration, and immigrants are largely competing for blue collar, i.e., male jobs; and female entry into the workforce for clerical/white collar jobs formerly done by men.

What is interesting to me is watching a lot of immigrant families bowing out of that head-to-head competition that the institutions preach to American men and women. Thus, I see lots of married Meso-American women pushing baby strollers and lots of unmarried Anglo-American women walking their dog(s).

I predict in a few generations most people won’t care much about Title VII.

noway June 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm

How about skill development? It usually takes decades to develop highly-compensated skills, outside of sex work or professional sports. As women in the 1960s entered the workforce as teens and twenty somethings, they progressed towards higher compensation levels. Men had not similar “pulse” from young to old, since in 1960, there were old, young and middle aged guys already participating nearly 100% in the workforce.

dave June 8, 2011 at 10:35 am


When you say immigration is a mostly positive sum game who is it positive sum for? Capital? High end knowledge workers? Manual labor proles? Or just GDP as a whole?

I think the same is true for women. My observation is that women’s lib was great for high ability women but not so great for low ability women. For prole women it just seems they gained the ability to work a job they hate and raise a family (often without a father), as opposed to just raise a family.

As for how prole men would be doing without women’s lib or immigration, I don’t think it would affect them negatively. Almost all gains proles have experienced have come from technological advancement, and that has mostly been driven by men (go to a programming or engineering department at univeristy and tell me how many white chicks you see). Even in business stuff like Wal Mart was male driven.

The only help prole men have gotten is from high end immigrants (asians and indians in silicon valley). And I don’t see many prole men up in arms over H1-Bs being granted to Indian programmers. The cheaper stuff at Wal Mart has mainly come from buying on credit that they can’t do anymore.

Saying something is good for a nation or even a gender in general is different then stating its good for everyone.

namae nanka June 8, 2011 at 3:07 pm

“My observation is that women’s lib was great for high ability women but not so great for low ability women.”

Jacqueline June 8, 2011 at 11:02 am

Car mechanics and firefighters are also service occupations. Plumbers and electricians are sometimes service occupations as well, when they are working on repairs instead of new construction.

Marc Malone June 9, 2011 at 12:48 am

No, they are not service industries. They create wealth.

Cars decrease rapidly in value. A mechanic fixes them and restore their value. A fully-restored antique car is truly valuable. Special paint-jobs ad value. The list goes on.

Firefighters add value. Most folks assume that fire departments are ubiquitous. In areas with high population densities, they are. In flyover country, they are not. Good schools, firefighting services, and good police forces are not just necessary. They actually produce a value. Livability has a lot to do with the price of real estate.

Some government workers produce value, those who provide actual essential services. Teachers, for example, provide value. Knowledge is a commodity. The quality of the product they provide has gone down dramatically, however. The kids are less knowledgable, and thus, less able to produce wealth themselves.

People have some weird ideas of what is service versus production; what is manufacturing versus tech sector (virtual manufacturing). Much of the understanding is based on obsolescent paradigms. The guy who cooks at a fast-food joint is producing a good, right? Or is it a service? How about the person who runs the cash register. Service, right? Or is that part and parcel of the food production, because he takes the order, too.

Here’s my take:

Lawyers create no wealth. They skim wealth. They produce nothing of lasting value. Some accountants produce wealth, because they act as comptrollers and help in the production process. Most merely figure out who gets what wealth, like lawyers. These are not really essential services. Really, mostly government makes them at all necessary. They do not make us safer, healthier, wealthier, nor wiser, in general.

Those who do things which add value to the community are producers. The whole service versus manufacturing is an old paradigm and needs revisiting. We need new definitions for people’s roles in our economic system.

mjw149 June 9, 2011 at 9:51 am

That’s honestly a great idea. I think you undervalue lawyers and accountants, however. Like the meter maids they help enforce order that supplies the predictability that drives economies. Society-Government-economy is a crystal that crumbles without predictable behaviors like rule of law and social norms. Lawyers and accountants, in appropriate amounts, are valuable for supporting that.

Jim June 8, 2011 at 11:09 am

“It’s evident that real gdp per capita and median male income became disconnected in the early 1970s. Why?”

Girls got jobs.


weichi June 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

Sorry for being dense, but how does “more women entering the labor force” lead to men’s real income lagging GDP, but women’s real income tracking GDP? What is the causal mechanism? Wouldn’t you expect an increase in the supply of labor to reduce wages for everyone, not just men?

Perhaps an explanation is that along with increasing labor force participation by women, wage discrimination against women has decreased. Or perhaps women’s *wages* have stagnated, but the average number of hours worked per working woman has increased. The later idea would be fairly easy to test against data, the former is notoriously difficult.

The Anti-Gnostic June 8, 2011 at 11:51 am

1) more immigrants who join the workforce are males doing day labor, trades, etc.; and 2) Title VII.

Americans haven’t adjusted to the lowering of their household living standards by deliberate government policy toward the worldwide mean. This is why you tend to see immigrant mothers pushing baby strollers and American women walking dog(s).

weichi June 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm

In other words, you believe that it has nothing to do with more women entering the workforce.

The Anti-Gnostic June 8, 2011 at 1:16 pm

3) women entering the workforce (cf. 2, supra).

Happy now?

Dave Schuler June 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

I don’t know what to make of this but the divergence between male median income and female median income over the last 35 years has a startling resemblance to the divergence between growth in private sector jobs vs. public sector jobs over the same period.

Miley Cyrax June 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm

And I suspect the size of HR and PR departments. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Nothing to see here, please move along.

weichi June 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

Does “median foo income” mean the median income over *all* foo, or only over foo that are working?

Surely it’s the later, in which case I don’t really see how increasing labor force participation by women can be the only answer. Shouldn’t increasing the supply of labor decrease wages for everyone? So if this is related to women entering the workforce there must be some other explanation too (perhaps an increase in hours worked per working woman to offset the downward force on wages, or a drop in discriminatory wage policies against women).

TallDave June 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm

A very interesting dichotomy. I believe you pointed in your book out that women joining the workforce was one form of “low-hanging fruit” that we’ve picked and just about finished eating — perhaps a very large one. (I guess we’ll have to wait for Kurzweil’s robots to pick up the slack — I hear that’s the long-term plan in Japan.)

But I always wonder how exactly “income” is being measured in these things. Does “income” include government transfer payments? What about an increase in the value of owned assets? It was pointed out recently the increase in “income” inequality since the 1980s can largely be chalked up to changes in the tax code, and corporate income is, after all, still in some sense owned by someone somewhere…

TallDave June 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Apologies Alex, just noticed this was your post, not Tyler’s.

Neal June 8, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Can we be a little more specific on the data source? I’m trying to chase it down and replicate the calculations for myself.

Ryan June 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm

The explanation that immediately came to mind is the increase in female labor participation rate since the 1970s. It didn’t take me long to confirm this at Male participation has steadily declined over the past 60 years, whereas female participation only started to decline as female Baby Boomers started retiring a few years ago.

The seasonally unadjusted numbers also give a clue: males far more often engage in seasonal labor, which tends to be trades. This means that, in general, men are more inclined to work in trades and other such work that does not require a college education. Great Moderation notwithstanding, these jobs are less sensitive to the “perpetual” increase in GDP we’ve been experiencing since the advent of fiat money.

That is, women – if they choose to work – tend to choose service industries, business, health care, etc. If they aren’t well-educated and the best they can hope for is Wal-Mart, they will be far more sensitive to what Mises called “the disutility of labor” than men will be. This is a legacy of traditional gender roles, I guess, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Sisyphus June 8, 2011 at 7:52 pm

So many of the ZMP men get counted as zeroes in the median income chart, but the women don’t because they have socially accepted alternatives to being in the workforce? I wonder how much that explains?

Does the data exist with zero income reporters excluded from both sexes?

anonygoat June 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Many (most?) predominately female jobs are actually just patronage and income redistribution of wealth from actually productive jobs. These jobs wouldn’t exist without various government interventions and couldn’t be paid for without various government guaranties.

Rahul June 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Forgot the services industry?

Dan Dostal June 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Like auto manufacturing or banking?

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm

No, like the army

Dat_Truth_Hurts June 9, 2011 at 9:37 am

There are tons of single mothers in the Army.

Neal June 8, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Okay, hang on a second. Here’s Table P-2:

Why are female median wages higher than male median wages in the graphs shown in the OP? A different scale? Because they’re not actually higher, ever.

roystgnr June 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Both are scaled and expressed as a percentage of their 1948 values.

Which makes the answer seem fairly obvious: wages have stagnated, but female wages are still “catching up”.

Neal June 8, 2011 at 3:05 pm

That makes much more sense. Thank you.

wavevector June 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm

The table on page six of this document has a breakdown of median male income by educational attainment, which adds an additional perspective to this trend.

The only men who have seen their income grow since 1970 have been those with advanced degrees. Those with college degrees are flat, and those with high school or below have seen decreasing earnings.

Dan June 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

In other news, median African-American income increased dramatically from 1850 to 1880.

YetanotherTom June 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I wonder if a word cloud of job listing requirements would pull up masculine or effeminate descriptors.
I’d hypothesize it would be neutral-feminine.

dirk June 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm

One factor I don’t see mentioned is men aspiring to less. Marriage has traditionally demanded that men be the breadwinners. Men on the receiving end of divorce often give up their ambitions in polite society. They may still work but they often don’t see the point in working hard anymore, would rather drink, etc.

Richard June 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Or the greater demands made by women on men have caused them to strive harder and aspire to more in order to win in the dating/market marketplace (See: China’s desperate bachelors).

In actuality, probably what’s happening is a bit of both. Some uber-successful men and others who give up and drop out of society, just as it has always been. The cutoff bar for “acceptable mate” has just been raised, though.

dirk June 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I buy that theory. It fits the data.

dave June 8, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Makes sense with the dramatic rise in female hypergamy after women’s lib.

JonF June 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I know more than a couple men who have divorced. However the only ones who fit your descripton are the ones who were lazy drunks before the divorce.
In the majority of divorces the wife gets nothing more than an equitable division of property. Alimony is a largely a thing of the past except at the more rarified strata of society– I’ve never known a single husband who had to pay it upon divorce. And even child support requires there to be minor children, whereas many (most?) couples who divorce do not have minor children.

dave June 8, 2011 at 8:58 pm

You gotta hang around more proles, and talk to some better divorce lawyers.

Dat_Truth_Hurts June 9, 2011 at 9:36 am

It is easy to get laid today if you got the act down (game), and lots of guys just work hard to enough to pay for video games, beer, time with buddies, and watch interweb porn. Where is the incentive to be the provider today? Women got jobs. They don’t really need your money but they still respond to the purely male attitude. If guys could get laid in cardboard box, the ensuing housing crash would make our current crises seem like the boom times.

Alaric June 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Alex I think there is something wrong with the data you have presented in this post; or I am misreading it, very possible.

The figures that you have presented show that the median woman earns more than the median man: 270 and 175 respectively. That’s not a bit more its a preposterously large difference. I looked at the source data at , the median income of women and men in 2009 dollars is 21K and 32K: the median man earns more.

The data is still consistent with the story of median male stagnation and median female income growth. However, it makes some difference to the analysis if female income has only been catching up with male income. The data is compatible with a standard story of the changing roles of women in modern society: women’s expectations changing increasing their participation rates and willingness to bargain for higher wages. If the median wage keeps increasing once they have caught up then it will be more of a puzzle.

Alaric June 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Belated apologies again. I misread the graphs: it does state that both series are 100 in 1948.

Rahul June 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Seeing how many commentators misread this I don’t blame you. It is annoying when such needless normalizations are attempted. When I read “wages” or “GDP” I expect metrics in dollars. Just natural.

Alaric June 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm

The data is wrong, it claims median women have higher incomes than men. However, median female income is lower than median male income, according to the cited source. Women earn 21k and men earn 32k. This changes the analysis some what. It is fairly plausible that women are catching up with a stagnant male income due to changing attitudes of, and about, women. Women now have higher expectations and are more confident hence they participate more, educate themselves more and bargain harder.

Alaric June 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Sorry I accidentally double posted. My first post didn’t come up; I must learn patience.

Dhanson June 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Some potential factors:

– There has been a large increase in demand and salary in female-dominated occupations such as nursing and education.

– The average educational level for women is, I suspect, increasing much faster than it is for men. Women have therefore on average moved from low-paying service occupations into white collar work.

– Women were underpaid relative to their productivity in the past, and therefore had more room to increase than men.

– Rising standards of living meant that women who were previously forced to work at low-paying jobs may have been able to stay home, raising the bar for salary required to enter the work force and therefore driving up the median wage. In the meantime, more women have gone to college, further shifting the curve up.

– The value of blue collar jobs has declined, and blue collar work is male dominated

– Immigration, and especially illegal immigration, has likely suppressed wages for men more than for women.

– There seems to be an interesting inflection point on the male graph around 1972-1973 Before then it was tracking GDP, then it basically went flat. The Equal Rights Amendment was passed in 1972. I’m not saying there is causation here, but it would probably be worth studying the effects of the ERA to see if that possibly made a difference.

JonF June 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm

The ERA was never passed, at least not in this universe.

Sisyphus June 8, 2011 at 7:55 pm

The ERA was passed by Congress but never ratified by sufficient states to amend the Constitution.

JonF June 8, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Right. The ERA never became the law of the land. So how can a non-law have any public consequences?

Cyrus June 10, 2011 at 7:08 am
namae nanka June 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

‘There seems to be an interesting inflection point on the male graph around 1972-1973″

JonF June 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm

My suggestion:
women’s jobs are less likely to be in fields that are vulnerable to offshoring or automation, while men, especially blue collar and low income men, have taken a direct hit by these two labor-reducing trends.

Greying Wanderer June 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm

The cause is the 1965 immigration act and its effect on the most basic economic tenet of all – supply and demand. Most immigrants are male and with lower average skill levels than the existing male population so if you look at the most male-dominated jobs starting from the least skilled upwards the answer is obvious. Take construction for example, almost completely unaffected by increased female participation in the workforce and yet a *decrease* in earnings caused by a much greater supply of workers. Seeing as the whole purpose of pro-immigration activism is to reduce earnings among the lower paid there should be no surprise.

Toads June 8, 2011 at 9:48 pm

So much speculation, so much ignorance.

The REAL Reason is feminism, which codifies special treatment for women into the law.

‘Outsoucing’ happens not because US base salaries are high, but because the feminist government imposes onerous costs on US businesses, to force them to hire and pay women despite their low productivity.

Sure, it is politically incorrect to say this. How convenient.

It is sad when such a blindingly obvious diagnosis is avoiding in favor of entirely wrong speculations, Greying Wanderer’s being the dumbest of them all.

Dat_Truth_Hurts June 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

Best post on the thread.

Some Guy June 8, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Wouldn’t the massive growth in the regulatory state have something to do w/ women’s income growth (compared to men’s)? Most of the stimulus was all about saving government jobs–not real ones. Much of women’s educational achievements over the last 40 years haven’t been in the hard sciences, and the only place where credentialism is rewarded is the state. An M.A. in Education isn’t quite the same thing as an M.A. in petroleum engineering, after all.

Government jobs are not only stable and comparatively high-paying, they’re also not subject to the redundancy through innovation that the private sector has gone through. Takes far fewer workers to make a ton of steel than it used to, but apparently at least twice as many staffers to handle the problems of public school admissions, registration, and “outreach.”

Be interesting to see that graph when the economy double-dips and states, counties + the federal government have to face the hard choices they didn’t make during the first wave of the financial crisis.

Toads June 8, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Greying Wanderer’s comment is wrong on so many levels that is could not be worse if he tried.

1) First of all, he does not know the difference between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigration.
2) He thinks construction workers came through the legal channels of the 1965 act, rather than across the border from Mexico.
3) He thinks an illiterate migrant worker from Mexico and a PhD scientist from China are the same.

LEGAL immigration was never in large numbers. It is only 1 million people per year, and has never been higher than that. That is a tiny number in a country of 300M, and certainly no impact on wages.

Plus, most of them are skilled.

Greying Wanderer is shockingly ignorant of what he speaks.

Toads June 8, 2011 at 9:53 pm


– There has been a large increase in demand and salary in female-dominated occupations such as nursing and education.

Only because those are government-supported, and shielding from market competition.

– Women were underpaid relative to their productivity in the past, and therefore had more room to increase than men.

Never. They have brainwashed you well. Today, women are overpaid relative to their productivity. Call it the ‘litigation premium’.

Dat_Truth_Hurts June 9, 2011 at 9:50 am

This. The ‘wage gap’ has been a myth for a long time. Men work longer hours, are more productive and often work in more dangerous jobs. They also don’t leave careers after a few years to have children and end up with more experience by the same age later in life.

What we see today is a massive shift of money from the productive to government jobs and jobs protected by massive entitlement – teaching, human resources, healthcare services. Jobs that could be done on the cheap with the same quality, if government didn’t interefere with them.

TallDave June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Don’t worry, I’m sure that won’t have any unpleasant consequences.

DirkJohanson June 8, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Median female income is undoubtedly understated in the graph, when factoring in all the unreported cash earned by the 250,000 strippers in the United States, by all the hookers (I can personally attest to boosting a lot of female incomes from that one), and by the multitudes of hot waitresses which I assume is not included.

I am confident the chart also does not include the billions of dollars in transfers women receive from guys who they are in a relationship with.

Also, does the chart include the massive disparity in welfare “income” earned by women, such not only as what we all think of as welfare, but also from Medicare and Social Security derived from higher life expectancies, and from SSI, the typical recipient of which is a housewife?

Does it count the billions of housing subsidies for hypergamous single mothers?

Does it count that women undoubtedly receive more in inheritance income since they tend to outlive their husbands? Does it count alimony and child support?

Dee June 9, 2011 at 9:48 am

Does the male income graph include the value of household and child rearing services provided by wives to their husbands?

Ray Ban Eyeglasses June 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.7

Andrew Edwards June 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm

This is so close to being intelligent comment spam, I spent like 15 seconds trying to understand before I clued in,

TallDave June 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

Eincrou June 8, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Since governments around the country (and the world) have specifically taken on the task of propping up women, it’s no surprise to me that they’ve had some measure of success. But, if you look deeper, you’ll realize that women are poised for a massive fall when their patron of Big Government collapses.

Masses of women work in phony professional jobs, most notably in government, healthcare and education; all sectors of the economy that we know must contract sharply.

Women have always been able to acquire resources directly from men, so I’m not very worried about women if this happens. I’m more worried that we’ll bankrupt our entire country attempting to keep the she-conomy going.

Claire Solt June 9, 2011 at 7:52 am

I remember the seventies and can compare our standard of living then to that of my children who are in their thirties. There is no comparison! They have more and bigger houses and cars, can afford to have mom stay home and raise the kids, and have oodles of disposable income. Whereas their father and I had the benefits of elite Ivy educations, they are both doing beautifully as grads from state universities.

Washington statistics are useless, if you ask me. They all talk about averages, and that is the worst stat you can use for anything. Also, their mountains of data bury useful deviations. They can’t see anything in the NAFE scorse and couldn’t even find the Firestone tire problem even after it became a national scandal. Then, of course, we saw algore give his statistian incomplete data to benefit his case.

Lots of people get screwed by pols who use identity politics to build their power on ignorance and hate. Look at their bad schools for answers. Like Herman Cain says, it is not about color, and I’ll add it is not about gender. It is about corrupt exercise of political power to keep people down.

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