The Spousal Wage Boost: Working Together to Beat the Gender Wage Gap

That is another AEA paper, by Andrew Langan and Betsey Stevenson, once again abstract only:

Individuals who work in the same occupation as their spouse have significantly higher earnings on average than similar people whose spouses work in different occupations. For instance, a lawyer married to a lawyer makes more than an otherwise identical lawyer married to a physician or a teacher. The earnings effect associated with such “same-occupation marriages” is negative for less-educated men but positive for other groups and stronger for women than men. This effect holds throughout the last several decades in cross-sectional US data, and cannot be explained by hours worked, education, self-employment, or other observables.

I have not read the paper, but I wonder if this is necessarily as feminist a result as it might at first seem…


Well, the idea that women can actually work as lawyers sounds outrageously feminist, at least for anyone born more than two generations ago.

People frequently overestimate how enlightened they are compared to previous benighted generations. Q: Who was the first Supreme Court justice to be married to a lawyer? A: Abe Fortas, who was born in 1910, married in 1935, and whose wife was a prominent tax attorney. Here's her NY Times obit

There are dozens of movies featuring women lawyers and judges going back to at least 1916, and in none of them was the audience expected to view the woman lawyer as an outlandish plot device. The idea that women could work as lawyers (or MDs or other professionals) has not been 'outrageous' for 100 years at least. There was a general sense, though, that a women had to choose between being a 'career woman' and a mother (Abe Fortas and his wife had no children, for example).

Slocum: Sandra Day O'Connor was hired as a secretary after graduating from Stanford Law and passing the bar. Absolute bar on employment is not really the issue.

Janet Yellen failed to get tenure but rose through the profession on the back of her Nobel prize winning husband. Her publication record never would have gotten her a job at Berkeley had she not been married to a professor there.

The idea that there is actually a gender wage gap is wrong. There is a gender work effort gap and a gender 100% job attendance gap which can be weasel worded into looking like a wage gap.

Well, being a Virginian, perhaps I tend to use a different yardstick.

Want to guess when the first African-American female judge was elected by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia?

1990, where Angela Roberts served on the Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

We can trade dates and individuals back and forth. Such as this, which would have applied to a female attorney too, of course - 'Forty years ago, any woman applying for a credit card could be asked a barrage of questions: Was she married? Did she plan to have children? Many banks required single, divorced or widowed women to bring a man along with them to cosign for a credit card, and some discounted the wages of women by as much as 50 percent when calculating their credit card limits.'

'People frequently overestimate how enlightened they are compared to previous benighted generations.'

Do note that the two things cited here occurred in my life time, and have nothing to do with previous generations at all. However, who knows? Maybe the number of female judges in Virginia these days approaches something like 50%. Well, at least 25%, as is the case today -

I'm not saying that women faced no professional (or other) obstacles -- that would be absurd. I'm saying that people overestimate how absolute the barriers were and often seem unaware of the numbers women who managed to get over or around them in the past. So, for example, I ran across Emily Dunning Barringer. In 1941, she was elected president of the American Women's Medical Association (NB: there was such a thing) and two years later successfully lobbied Congress to allow women MDs to serve as commissioned officers rather than civilian contractors during the war (NB: there were enough women MDs for that to be an issue). She graduated from Cornell Medical School and began her career in 1902 (and had an older woman doctor as a mentor).

Let's have an accurate understanding of the past, rather than believing that only a couple of generations ago the very idea of a woman lawyer or doctor was 'outrageous'.

'I'm saying that people overestimate how absolute the barriers were'

Exceptions to broad patterns are not proof that those broad patterns do not exist. It was only 3 generations ago that American women were granted the right to vote in all elections.

'there was such a thing'

Of course - ever wonder why? Much like how women did not go to Brown University in the early 1950s, they went to Pembroke. Brown did not admit women, after all - it was only in 1971 that women became students of Brown University, though of course they had been attending classes at Brown for decades.

'Let's have an accurate understanding of the past'

See above, with yet another example from my lifetime. Almost as if you have a problem imagining what the fairly recent past looked like in the U.S.

'that only a couple of generations ago the very idea of a woman lawyer or doctor was 'outrageous''

Well, I did not say anything about doctors, but a couple of generations ago, how many people would have accepted the idea of a woman lawyer being normal? Unless her husband allowed it, of course.

"...but a couple of generations ago, how many people would have accepted the idea of a woman lawyer being normal?"

Almost everyone if you take 'normal' to be the opposite of 'unheard of' or 'outlandish' or 'outrageous' or 'weird'. Let's put it this way, a woman being a lawyer in 1955 was more normal than a woman being a driller on an oil-rig or a man being a preschool teacher in 2018.

Define "generations."

If you guys are thinking of people in their 70s or 80s (i.e., baby boomers, two or three generations ago), then female lawyers and doctors are utterly normal. You really need to go before WWII for this to have been an issue.

Well, the actual phrase I wrote was 'outrageously feminist.' And if you think that American in 1961 thought that an unmarried woman in legal practice was utterly normal to employ as their lawyer, well, what can one say?

'You really need to go before WWII for this to have been an issue.'

For something to be considered outrageously feminist? I thought one just needed to read this comment section to find how outrageously feminist it is to think that women are equal to men, for some commenters at least.

However, the point about generations is not wrong - being Prof. Cowen's age means that my view of century ago means something like 1870 or 1880, which is not really all that accurate. To give an example, recorded music and electric light bulbs are a century old to me - clearly, that is not accurate.

A female lawyer born in 1945 would begin to practice in 1970.

Sure, and as noted above, she would still have had to waited 4 years for this to happen if she wanted a credit card - 'the Senate passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender, race, religion and national origin.'

But then, she would have had the benefit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which meant that a law firm could not legally refuse her employment by merely saying they did not hire female lawyers.

That was 50 years ago. What fraction of the population had a credit card?

Anyway, I'm not trying to be argumentative. All I meant is that it was well past the time where being a female lawyer or doctor was weird or something rare in the US. By 1975, 10 percent of lawyers were women. It's a little under 40 percent today, for a profession that's tougher to combine with family than medicine.

'What fraction of the population had a credit card?'

It wasn't just about credit cards. Think any sort of loan at all - such as that required by someone starting a business.

'By 1975, 10 percent of lawyers were women. It's a little under 40 percent today'

That very noticeable increase did not occur in a vacuum, and would seem to suggest that there was some explanation for that increase in the space of 4 decades. An explanation not based on whether women are capable of being lawyers, obviously, but one that would be able to explain such a dramatic shift.

'Almost everyone if you take 'normal''...

... to mean that her husband approved.

'a woman being a lawyer in 1955 was more normal than a woman being a driller on an oil-rig or a man being a preschool teacher in 2018'

Well, you have the advantage of current American knowledge in terms of pre-school. In Germany. men are distinctly preferred as pre-school teachers these days, and there are significant incentives to hire them, apparently.

Giving an interesting perspective on how things change, actually - I would not have thought, in 1992, that using a male preschool teacher as an example of something even more rare than a woman lawyer in 1955 would have been written.

"... to mean that her husband approved."

Again, you're misconstruing the past. Social approval was not just a question of husbands. Women have always been active enforcers of social mores. The 'mommy wars' are not over:

Neither a male preschool teacher in 2018 nor a female lawyer in 1955 is/was weird. But percentage-wise, men make up just over 2% of preschool and kindergarten teachers in the U.S.

I'm pretty sure that the number of women doing oil drilling (or other dirty, burly-man jobs) is even lower though there are a few women petroleum engineers on rigs.

'you're misconstruing the past'

Um, you did read the link about credit cards, right? So, let me quote from another source - 'Until then, banks required single, widowed or divorced women to bring a man along to cosign any credit application, regardless of their income.'

This did not have to be their husband, of course - but it did have to be a man who approved. Strangely, a male lawyer did not have to bring a woman to co-sign.

That is the actual past, construe it however you wish. And sure, it probably did not apply to every single woman who ever applied for a credit card (or for other financial services, such a loan)- just enough of them to make a law necessary to end the practice. A law that is less than 5 decades old.

What I mean by misconstruing the past is that first of all, you've cherry-picked out of your own link -- most of the changes in that history occur decades or a century before the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act. But also -- what was the rationale for a male co-signer? Because..patriarchy? Or because lenders believed (with reason at the time) that a woman's independent earning capacity was likely to be temporary until she married and had children? (Labor force participation for married women in the U.S. didn't hit 50% until 1980 after all)

But also you're thinking in terms of male oppressors and female victims rather than a changing social contract whose previous rules were enforced by both sexes (and, arguably, mostly women). You may have noticed that female status hierarchies and competition are really a thing. The changing social rules (and the legal changes that accompanied them) have created losers and winners among women as well as status struggles between them (hence the mommy wars that have been going on ever since).

What a tendentious conversation, in which you offer an opinion completely detached from anything but your own baldly biased impressions of the world.

Here's one excerpt from scholarship:

"Women in the 1920s, attracted by newly popular ideas of meritocracy in the professions, were optimistic about their chances for success measured according to this
criterion. New ideas about women's independence and companionate marriage seemed to create conditions for their success. Yet by the end of the decade, pessimism
overcame the optimism of most of the new women lawyers, who found it virtually impossible to find employment in law offices. One NYU graduate who answered every advertisement and was turned down by every New York law firm, said dejectedly, "I have lost all my ambition and courage."

All over the nation, women law graduates were told by firms: "We want a man." One major firm in Houston, which prides itself on being an early meritocracy, admits
in the firm history that women had been graduating from the University of Texas School of Law since 1914 and that they hired a number during the 1920s and '30s, but only as librarians or temporary employees, not "real" lawyers. Women took whatever they could find, often jobs as stenographers or librarians in law firms, or went into
practice with their husbands or fathers in small local or ethnic firms, or like Jane Foster, just got discouraged and dropped out. Women who got married emphasized
how important it was to find the right husband-one of the few men who understood and supported his wife's desire to have a career."

And here's another example (it appears there were better opportunities for women lawyers outside of big law firms):

"Everywhere one turned, one could find examples of women who had achieved success within the new meritocracy of the legal profession. Women lawyers such as Helen Carloss, Emma Fall Schofield, and Edith Sampson were just a few of the many success stories. They stood as proof that individual women lawyers could compete as equals with men and excel in the most competitive of meritocracies. Helen Carloss was a young woman stifled in a small town who went to the city and found success. Born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Carloss yearned to escape the narrow life her elite southern upbringing offered her. Teaching was a profound disappointment. "I hated it. Simply hated it," she recalled. When a friend received a government appointment in Washington, D.C., Carloss accompanied her in 1918, leaving the security of her hometown to find adventure and independence in a big city. Carloss found a position as a clerk in the income tax division of the Internal Revenue Service. With an eye toward improving her job prospects, she enrolled in the law school at George Washington University, where she received her LL.B. in 1923. Her legal training enabled her to move up within her division at the Internal Revenue Service. She was a very successful lawyer and earned a reputation as being tough for her ability to collect taxes from delinquent payers. In fact, her opponents usually prepared for their cases against her by engaging a team of "the best men lawyers they can get." In 1928, when she had been out of law school for only five years, Carloss replaced another woman attorney at the Department of Justice. Two years later, she became assistant to the attorney general in charge of the appellate work of the Justice Department's tax division. In just twelve years, Carloss had broken free from the constraints of her provincial southern upbringing and had fashioned for herself a fast-moving and successful professional life
in the nation's capital.

Emma Fall Schofield was another accomplished new woman lawyer, but unlike Carloss, she followed her family traditions in forging her professional and private life. Schofield grew up in a household of lawyers. Her mother, Anna Christy Fall, and father, George Howard
Fall, shared a law practice in Boston in the late nineteenth century. Schofield followed her mother's professional path. She graduated from Boston University Law School in 1908, married, had two children, and built a remarkable legal career. She was the first woman in Massachusetts to seive both as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Industrial Accident Board and as assistant attorney general. In addition, she was the first woman probation officer in the western part of the state, a dean
of women at the Northeastern University Evening Law School, and a professor of constitutional law at Portia Law School. Schofield also balanced her legal career with marriage and motherhood. If Jane Thorndike symbolized the ideal new woman lawyer of the day, Emma Schofield stood as proof that this image could be a reality. True to the optimism of the times, Schofield viewed her success as typical rather than unique for her day, she declared her era "the golden age of opportunity for women."

Networking effect? Curious if you see something similar for children and parents who share a profession.

My first thought from my experience is that it's increased skills from shared experience and discussions of problems/tasks. Though networking certainly would seem to be another area that theoretically should improve career outcomes.

My wife and I have the same graduate training and work in the same job function in different industries, tech and energy. We talk about what we work on, particularly when it's challenging or high value, and we very often can offer a different perspective or ask illuminating questions.

At the very least it's someone to talk through something with that will productively listen and isn't going to be uninterested and shut down the conversation.

Anthropologist Beth Conklin has shown how personhood is tied to social relations among the Wari' people of Rondônia, Brazil.

Recent usage, especially in the recorded-music industry, also allows eponymous to mean "named after its central character or creator".

Two for one hiring. If you want me, you have to hire my wife.

It's increased spousal competitiveness when results can be directly compared.

It's "She's not going to be home for dinner so I don't need to worry about being home for dinner."

yeah, not "feminist" at all, lol.

I think Tyler means that this result is because women in a profession will have a more informed view on which males will be more successful in that same profession vs those women not in that profession. But couldn't it work both ways? I.e males are getting a better view on which women also will be more successful?

Changing employers is a good way to increase your wages, and often that means moving. Both spouses working increases the complexity of the move. If one spouse has an occupation such as nursing or similar where skills are in demand and easily transferable to another employer, then it is easier but not necessarily more lucrative. In fact maybe the opposite. And if the occupation is a profession where positions are available but more complex to get, then the move may simply not happen.

But if one lawyer gets an offer, or some other professional or specialized skill, the likelihood of the other spouse with a similar occupation being able to find a position could increase. Maybe part of the offer itself, or network effects where the new employer may know of other positions available. It may in some situations increase the likelihood of the move which would likely benefit both wagewise.

This explanation, or similar ones that involve changing jobs, seems the most promising of the ones I've seen so far in the comments. Because changing jobs is one of the most effective ways to raise your salary.

I do wonder about the causality going in the other direction. Maybe people who are in the same profession and who marry each other tend to be above average in competence and salary. E.g. if I'm in profession X, would I want to marry someone who's lousy at X? I think I'd be more likely to marry someone who's good, and high salaried, in X. And vice-versa for someone marrying me.

But if I'm marrying someone in profession Y, I don't even know who's good or crummy at it, or maybe I know but I don't care. So I'm not going to be as picky about their competence at Y.

And if they are not both successful, do they stay married, or in the same profession?

Maybe this is not about wages but about successfully navigating the fraught terrain of two career families.

There's probably some respect in which assortive mating is better at ferreting out those "observables" than the paper's authors are. So the lawyer married to a lawyer is better than the lawyer married to an office manager, even in ways that are difficult to measure.

Excellent point

I think one could call this the spousal competition effect: working in the same profession means that one's professional accomplishments are much more easily comparable than is the case for spouses working in different professions. If one gets an advancement or raise the other thinks they must, too, or at the very least that they, can, too. The bar has been set. If one works in a different profession, excuses are easier to come by.

Exactly - knowing what your colleague earns, role-playing the wage negotiation with him over the dinner table, etc. Is it surprising if such women are more likely to get a raise?

Reportedly a large contributing factor towards the wage gap is the agreeableness of women i.e. failing (or refusing) to become disagreeable in negotiating a higher salary for themselves. Men have higher trait disagreeableness leading to them negotiating harder for higher pay.

Is it possible that, say, two people in the same industry would more easily be able to compare salaries, realize the difference and therefore negotiate a higher salary on behalf of the women?

(Minor quibble: Does 'spouse' include same-sex partners? Do two lesbians' earnings increase when they work in the same field?)

Maybe disagreeable people like to marry each other?

Just wanted to point out that in Big Law all associates are paid the same salaries based on class year for at least the first 8 years of their career. You can easily find salaries for each firm on Above the Law.

It's "individuals who work in the same occupation as their spouse" who get the wage boost. What happens when one spouse quits working in order to have children and raise a family? Well, to begin with, they no longer are individuals who work in the same occupation as their spouse. But that's beside the point made in the study. What I believe the study suggests is that people who are like-minded enough to marry and to marry someone pursuing the same career are like-minded in the pursuit of income.

All of this commentary and I'm the first to say that this "result" is most likely the outcome of researchers doing multiple comparisons in trying to find out what affects earnings. They might also find significance when looking at the ratio of the length of each toe and finger to the total height of the person.

'stronger for women than men' - Maybe husbands have a stronger professional network which could offer more to the wife. Such a difference could diminish as the gender pay gap closes.

This seems to have the direction backward. It feels like the people who are more successful in their career are more likely to get married to other people in their field. Even before they are more successful, they probably spend more time working, are more well networked, and just give off more competence signals.

You wrote it first... but I was thinking it seems like there's some selection bias. Who marries the office dope?

The observation and implications are obvious. Women get dragged up the chain by their higher performing husbands as part of two-fer deals. How many times in Economics and Law have you seen women hired in places far above their accomplishments and educational pedigree simply because their husbands work there?

This. Been there, done that. The total package can be divided between spouses for multiple reasons. One can hide the cost of the top performer from others by paying the trailing spouse more. Alternatively the hiring price of the trailing spouse is part of the package so they do not realize they are the trailing spouse. No one hires two journeyman players as a package. One must be a star.

I wonder how much of this is due to increased pay knowledge? One of the hardest parts of pay negotiation is knowing what the going rate is. If one makes X, and the spouse makes 1.5X (same otherwise), you know you could easily ask for more and not feel bad about it.

The 'gender wage gap' is not a problem that needs to be 'beaten'. It is merely a feature of social life. Abortion on demand, frivorce, and slum crime are sources of great social anguish. You'd have to scrounge to locate an academic who gives a rip about any of them. The faculties convictions and priorities mark them as frivolous.

I agree with the suggestions that the reporting of these results is reversing cause and effect. The highest earners in a professional environment like a big law firm are primarily going to socialize with other highly-paid lawyers. (High-earning male lawyers might marry a paralegal or a secretary, but female lawyers generally won't).
"Betsey Stevenson @BetseyStevenson 8 hours ago
Come see the paper at 8am! What's driving the result--one force is that same-occupation couples reduce men's hours at work more compared to other men & reduce women's hours at work less when there are small kids at home. In short, more equal splitting of home and work."

I wonder if this is related at all to the tradition of famous men who were actually husband and wife teams, for example or

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