Young, Educated and Gender-Gapped

07/23/2010 07:55 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The 2009 gender gap among full-time workers was 19.8 percent. Women earn 80.2 of men's earnings. But in certain niches and demographic groups, the gap is smaller or even reversed.

In my recent discussion with Jessica Bennet from Newsweek about her article, "I Don't: The Case Against Marriage," we didn't get to discuss this line from the article:

But today, we no longer need to "marry up": women are more educated (we make up nearly 60 percent of college graduates) and better compensated (urban women in their 20s actually outearn their male peers).

The earnings advantage they mentioned for young urban women is from an article in the New York Times from 2007, with 2005 earnings from NYC and other large cities. Nationally, young men still outearn young women, so the thinking in that article had to do with young professional women moving to concentrated areas.

However, the graphic from that article shows that women's advantage is concentrated among Black and Latina women; among Whites, men earn more (just the city, not the suburbs, apparently was included):

So, in terms of a marriage-market disincentive, it's stronger for Black and Latina women -- especially Black women, who are the most likely of all minority groups to marry within their race/ethnicity -- and have very low marriage rates. (Education gaps raise still more questions.)

Nationally, among 25-34 year-old college graduates, women make 80.7 percent of men's full-time, year-round earnings. The detailed breakdown shows men more than twice as likely to be over $100,000, and women much more concentrated between $30,000 and $50,000 per year:

Source: My graph from March 2009 Census data. The Black dots show location of distribution midpoints (50th percentile).

This is a little like the ongoing fixation on whether and when (and for how long) women passed 50 percent of the labor force. Whether women are 49.5% or 50.5% doesn't make much difference for how much they "dominate" the workplace. When it comes to the marriage market, or the choice about whether to marry, the single number of the earnings gap is less important than the distribution. The average gap matters less than how likely it is to find someone who earns enough to tip the scales toward marriage -- and that number doesn't have to be above your own; some people making $60,000 could benefit financially from marrying someone making $50,000.

Cross posted from the Family Inequality blog