Does Marriage Affect Earning Potential?

Using DASIL’s United States Income Data by Marital Status, Race, and Sex visualization, one can see how the effect of marriage on a person’s earnings is multifaceted in nature: it depends on who we focus on and other factors at play. However, there are general trends that do prevail.

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Married people overall have higher earnings, although the difference between divorced people is smaller than that of single people. Married people with a spouse present earned over $33 annually, while single people earned on average well over $10,000 less than married people with a spouse present. While it may appear that being single correlates to lower earnings, inter-related variables may explain some of the earning discrepancies observed.

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One important variable to consider is the effect of age. As we discuss in another blogpost, workers ages 15-24 earn less than those of other age brackets. Studies suggest that those belonging to the 15-24 age bracket are less likely to be married, so some of the earning trends shown may not be strictly due to marriage. In addition, as illustrated in the aforementioned blogpost, 25-34 year-olds and 65+ year-olds make about the same and the next least age demographic (about $25000 more in 2013 dollars), and 35-64 make about $20,000 more on average. The 35-64 year-olds are more likely to be established in their careers, earning their highest-paying years within this age bracket. So, some earnings trends may be attributed to the pace of a career’s trajectory.

Breaking down by gender, the general trend persists: married men make a lot more than divorced and single men of all races, $44k, $33K, and $20k respectively. Married women have been making more than single men in recent years, averaging about $2K more in 2006 and persisting into 2010. While single women made more than married women in the 80s, the trend has reversed in recent years.

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Breaking down by race, both Asian single men and women make more than any other singles demographically, at both averaging about $21K in 2010. Hispanic single women make the least of all demographics of men and women, at $15.1K, although Black single men are a close second. Earnings of Black single men peaked in 1998, only separated from white men by about a $200 difference. Studies attribute this peak to the economic boom of the 1990s and the transition of Black men into higher-skilled service-industry jobs.

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Married Hispanic women still make less in comparison to all other married women, at $19.1K, but still substantially more than if they are single. Black females top the earnings compared to women of other races, at $26.6K, with the trend moving more or less in the same way as Asian married women.

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Highlighting the Importance of Intersectionality in the Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is again receiving much-needed publicity in recent years as a topic of debate between US presidential hopefuls for 2016 and information uncovered from Sony’s email hack this time last year. While the phrase “women get paid 78% of what men are paid” is touted frequently in discussion, the 78% figure is static in dimension. Do all women get paid 78% of what men are paid, or is it just a subset of the female working population?

There is a lot more to the 78% figure than meets the eye, and the intersection of race and gender is important to telling the fuller story behind the 78%, and the wider issue of gender parity in earnings.

Using DASIL’s Pay by Race & Gender visualization, we can see that race plays a significant role in the pay of a full-time working woman and reveals the nuances to the widely-cited 78% figure. Asian women working full-time in the US are (and have been) the subset of women getting paid closest to what all men are getting paid throughout history, at 86% that of men in 2013. However, Asian women were only paid 75% that of Asian men in 2013. On the other end of the spectrum, Hispanic women were disproportionately getting paid only 60% of men’s wages in 2013, the lowest of all recorded races. Hispanic males also earn the lowest in comparison to all men, at 64% of what all men earn (not shown) in 2013. As the graph indicates, the asymmetric trends for Hispanic and Black women have remained relatively constant for the past twenty years.

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With regard to part-time labor, however, there is virtually complete gender parity in 2013 when focusing on average figures, with “all women” receiving 99% of what a man earns. When filtering by race, part-time working White and Asian women even get paid more than that of average men; white women receive 106% of what a man earns, and Asian women 101% in 2013. However, racial disparity still persists: both Black and Hispanic women in part-time labor received 85% of what part-time men were paid in 2013, and the closest Black and Hispanic women have been in achieving pay parity with the average man was in 1994.

As this infographic suggests, one reason for full-time and part-time pay disparity can be due to industry: black women are more likely to work in less-lucrative jobs (e.g. service, healthcare) than high-lucrative jobs (e.g. STEM, management). Relatedly, education can be a contributing factor: Hispanic and Black women are less likely to graduate than whites. Yet, even if women of color have the same education levels as their white peers, they are still paid less; there is more contributing to pay disparity than the educational attainment of women of color.

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While there is clear cause for more work to be done in bridging the pay gap between men and women, recognizing the multiple dimensions of the issue will be key to creating meaningful and effective policy changes.

Explore more trends with our Pay by Gender and Race visualization here.

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