Women’s Equality Hurts Married Women

HomogamyA new paper published in the Journal Demography, Women’s Progress for Men’s Gain? Gender-Specific Changes in the Return to Education as Measured by Family Standard of Living, 1990 to 2009–2011, reveals a fascinating phenomenon: as women’s income increases, their overall standard of living has actually decreased. It’s a long paper (and lives behind a pay wall), so I’m going to summarize a lot, and of course, comment.

In the mid-twentieth century, men were much more likely than women to earn a
bachelor’s degree in the United States. Since the 1980s, women have overtaken men in the rate of college graduation. In 2010, women in their late 20s were 8% more likely than men to acquire a bachelor’s degree. The higher numbers of women in higher education now extends beyond bachelor’s degrees to postgraduate education.

And yet there is no move to abandon incentives that favor women’s admission to universities, despite the fact that they were brought in to address under-representation, but it is now men who are underrepresented.

In terms of wages, women’s earnings have grown faster than men’s since the early 1970s. As a result, the earnings gap between men and women has narrowed substantially.

The earnings gap referred to here is the difference between the wages of the average woman and those of the average man.

Although wages are important, the economic well-being of women and the financial return to their education has traditionally been significantly mediated by the marriage market. To more fully account for the total financial return on women’s higher education, the economic rewards garnered in both the labor and marriage markets need to be considered simultaneously.

I.e. family income is what’s important for people who are married.

It might seem logical that women are less well off than men because on average women earn lower wages. However, educated women are at an advantaged not only compared with less-educated women, but also compared with equally educated men, though that advantage is small. The ratio of family income to higher education was increasing faster for women than for men after 1980.

If women unfairly benefited from their higher education, this would have been born out in the individual wages. Since the benefit accrued only in marriage, this indicates that women, by increasing their education, also increased their ability to attract a man who made more.

DiPrete and Buchmann suggested that the faster rise in the return to higher education over time for women compared with men is at least partially responsible for the female-friendly change in college completion.

I.e. women fought for access to higher education not simply as a means to earn higher wages, but also as a way to attract men who earned higher wages.

The relative stagnation of men’s education and earnings implies that women may receive lower returns to their education in the marriage market compared with the 1980s. The fact that husbands are still the main breadwinners for most households heightens this possibility.

In other words, if men’s wages don’t improve and women’s do, women are less well off by marrying.

Wages of the college educated have increased significantly for both men and women over the last several decades, while less-educated workers are suffering from stagnating or even declining annual earnings. The college wage premium is higher for women than for men. The relative college premium is higher for women than for men.

This is likely due to high risk unskilled professions that are dominated by men (construction, policing, mining, forestry, and the like) paying better than the unskilled professions more commonly occupied by women.

Women are currently more likely than men to go to college and to earn a bachelor’s
or higher degree. In 1970, women accounted for 41% of students in all degree-granting institutions, but that share increased to 57% in 2005. In 2009 and 2010, more than 50% of all graduate degrees were granted to women. Gender segregation in fields of study has reduced significantly in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kind of puts paid to the whole idea of male privilege.

Personal weekly and annual earnings for full-time working women grew faster than for men during the 1990s and the 2000s so that the difference between average between the genders in annual earnings has continuously narrowed.

This reflects the continuing move away from single income families.

Over the last several decades, men’s earnings have stagnated except among higher-income earners. The relative stagnation of men’s earnings for most of the distribution implies that most women may garner less return on their education in the marriage market than in earlier decades. As women’s educational attainment rises, women are less likely to marry up. Partly as a consequence of this trend, educational homogamy has continuously increased in America since the 1960s.

Are women truly becoming homogamous, or is the lack of men with higher levels education stymieing their hypergamous instinct?

When husbands bring less income into a family over time, the growth in wife’s earnings might not be sufficient to raise a family’s economic well-being. The paradoxical consequence is that all the progress experienced by women over the last several decades can result in the deterioration of their overall economic well-being.

How can this be, if women are earning more? This can only be true if inflation has outstripped the rate of growth of family incomes. By adding women’s labour to the market, we have increased supply, which in turn allows employers to decrease wages when adjusted for inflation.

Single women’s income growth rates are lower than those of their [single] male counterparts. Average income for single men grew by the same rate as for married men. In contrast with single women, the income growth rates for married women are all positive and exceed those of married men.

This can be explained by the fact that women’s income growth is stalled by time spent out of the labour market in maternity leave and child care. Married women are able to offset this disadvantage because their husband’s careers are uninterrupted, or because their husbands are able to share in child care.

The growing inequality in men’s earnings across educational levels hurts married women with less than a bachelor’s degree more than less-educated married men themselves in regard to the standard of living. The decline in personal income for less-educated men is offset by the rise in income from their wives. For less-educated women, however, the contribution of their husbands has been substantially reduced so that their standard of living has diminished even though their personal earnings have grown.

In other words, equality benefits poor men. How interesting that the decline in marriage mirrors the decrease in benefit it offers women. The benefit to poor men is surely offset by the fact that fewer of them will find a mate.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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