Women’s Wages Flatten At 39: Another Reason We Need Pay Equity

With the Senate set to take up the Paycheck Fairness Act and the White House pushing hard for its passage, the New York Times offers up this look at how the gender gap between men and women grows with age.

Generally speaking, the older a woman is the greater the disparity in pay between what she earns and her male counterparts earn. Now there’s new data that has charted exactly where female college graduates hit their pay ceiling. The conclusion? 39.

The study assumes the earnings of a “typical college-educated, full-time worker” who starts at an entry level position at age 22. Even at the outset there’s a sizable gap in pay between men and women with men earning $40,800 versus $31,900. Initially, in terms of percentages, women’s pay raises outpace men’s but then level out around age 30. At that point both college-educated men and women have experienced wage growth at about 60 percent compared with what they started earning at 22.

But by the time women reach 39 their pay flattens, sometimes permanently. The study accounts for the fact that around age 30 women typically start having kids and that entering into and out of the workplace as a result impacts earning capacity. But beyond that point there’s nothing to account for the pay disparity that is verifiable and quantitative.

The fact that there’s no clean explanation for the difference, and no way to account for how universal it is shows just how pernicious and entrenched the problem of pay disparity is and why the Paycheck Fairness Act is so necessary.

Related Stories:

Senate To Vote On Paycheck Fairness Act Tomorrow

Photo from 401K via flickr.


Jerry B.
Jerry B.5 years ago

Re: "The fact that there’s no clean explanation for the difference, and no way to account for how universal it is shows just how pernicious and entrenched the problem of pay disparity is..."

Or maybe it shows a need to dig a little deeper.

Re: women's 77 cents to men's dollar

Here's why the Republicans blocked the bill:

The "proof" cited to show there is wage discrimination against female workers is "women earn 77 cents to men's dollar in the same jobs."

Contrary to what pay-equity advocates say, though, “women's 77 cents to men's dollar” does NOT mean women are paid less than men in the same jobs. Nor does it mean, even more incredibly in the vein of “men are stronger than women” (which means to many that every man is stronger than every woman), that every woman earns 23% less than every man, perhaps leading some of the more benighted and the blinkered ideological to believe Diane Sawyer of ABC News earns less than the young man walking up and down the street wearing a “Pizzas $5” sign.

Women's 77 cents to men's dollar is arrived at by comparing the sexes' median incomes: women's median is 77 percent of men's. In 2009, the median income of full-time, year-round workers was $47,127 for men, compared to $36,278 for women or 77 percent of men's median. http://www.catalyst.org/publication/217/womens-earnings-and-income

Median income is defined thusly: 50% of workers earn above the figure and 50% below. Think about what t

Anna M.
Anna M5 years ago

Hmm, I also have mixed feelings about this.

If an individual, regardless of gender, produces either less output or lower quality work because of other priorities, then why should that person get the same merit increase as his or her coworker who can produce more or higher quality work?

The reason women, on average, make less than men of the same age is because many women choose to prioritize a child or children over their work, while men choose NOT to prioritize a child or children over their work. Many women, even, ask to go back part-time.

Ask yourself realistically how many times you've called in sick or left early / came in late because of your kid?

I see this more as a priority war versus a gender-equality war.

Robert C.
Robert Cruder5 years ago

Definitely a case of mixed feelings…

The article misleads by combining women who prioritized their careers (as men usually do) with women who did not.

If the former are paid less than men for similar work, then true discrimination occurred. Since few choose their gender after birth, such discrimination is legally indistinguishable from that based on race. Opposition to legal protection could reasonably be called misogynist.

If the latter are paid less, they had to be aware of the opportunity cost that they took on when they chose to bear children. The current pattern of population growth and resource shrinkage recommends increasing rather than decreasing such opportunity cost.

The question of whether women alone should bear that opportunity cost while men do not becomes less relevant as long as most births occur in an economic unit that includes one of each with or without formal marriage.

I was a victim of a somewhat related discrimination. As a middle-aged white male, I found myself AND women of similar age were paid less and passed over for promotion in favor of men AND women of childbearing age. One female executive who felt that people with children "needed it more" arranged promotions for employees of both sexes within six months of their birthing or adopting a child. I consider that to be more egregious because none of us could have reasonably expected it and because it was too late to change our reproductive choices.

John Turner
John Turner5 years ago

I really hope the Republicans who voted no on the Paycheck Fairness Act get voted out of office this November!

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Michael T. I love your air of superiority over the less endowed among us.

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Michael T. I love your air of superiority over the less endowed among us.

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Michael T. I love your air of superiority over the less well informed inferiors among us.

Cristina C.
Cristins Calloni5 years ago

Why if we work same as male..we receive less money???? this is america???

Terri Lynn Merritts
Terri M5 years ago

The problem tends to be that so many women drop out of the workforce to bear and raise kids and employers see that as unreliable in the workforce. You rarely see men do that. Another issue is that many women choose lower paid careers that you rarely see men enter. As a mother, I was inspired by my own mom who chose to run businesses even after I was born and to teach me a lot by taking me to work with her part of the time and letting my dad care for me part of the time and then having an in-home housekeeper who watched me the rest of the time. My mother wanted for me to earn a doctorate from a prestigious university and to be able to have my own business and I followed her example. My own family tells me that I inspire them. People who do equal work should get paid the same starting salary but in the business world, pay increases are due to actually staying on the job and doing well at it.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

"No Comment"...