Men’s earnings have fallen since 1970s, Census says

Men's earnings have fallen since the 1970s, the Census says. (Times files)
Men's earnings have fallen since the 1970s, the Census says. (Times files)
Published September 14 2018
Updated September 14 2018

The gender pay gap has begun narrowing over the last four decades ó and womenís earnings are now closer to menís. But that is not only because women are doing better.

The trend is also in part because men are earning less. Earnings for men have fallen in the decade since the recession, and are even below levels for much of the 1970s and 1980s.

Men are still paid about $10,000 more on average than women, according to Census Bureau figures released Wednesday, but the gender earnings gap has grown smaller.

From 1973 to 2017, menís earnings fell by about $3,200, or about 5 percent, in numbers adjusted for inflation. Earnings for African-American men fell even more steeply than those of white men, according to experts.

"Weíre talking about a 40-year period of people working full-time who are not doing better than their fathers and grandfathers did, and are basically doing worse," said Mark Rank, an inequality expert at Washington University in St. Louis. "Itís a really striking pattern going on over a long period of time."

Census data show that average earnings for men fell again in 2017, the first year of the Trump administration. They fell for this same group in four of the eight years of the Obama administration as well: 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016.

Women still face enormous barriers in the labor market, including gender discrimination in hiring and pay, as well as sexual harassment. Womenís earnings are still only 81 percent that of men, essentially unchanged from last year, as inflation-adjusted earnings fell slightly for both genders, according to the Census.

But womenís average earnings have crept upwards slowly over the long and short run, in healthy signs of progress, while those of men have not. Since 2010, average earnings have fallen by about $2,000 for men. They have risen by about $500 for women over the same period.

The Census figures published Wednesday did show an increase in median household income, which jumped to an all-time high of $61,372. But that increase appears to have been driven by an addition of workers to the labor force, which drives up overall median income even though it does not mean median earnings rise for those who are working, according to Rank.

Experts disagree about the cause of the decline in menís earnings, with some pointing to the decline in manufacturing jobs and others citing the long decline of organized labor in America.

In the early 1980s, close to one in every four men was in a union. Now only about 11 percent of men are in a union, while 10 percent of women are unionized. Several studies have pointed to a link between higher wages and union membership, which allows workers to bargain for higher wages.

"The deterioration of unions has had a rougher effect on menís incomes because men had been much more a part of organized labor," said Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think-tank.