Do Women Really Outearn Men?

May 10, 2012In today’s guest-post, Emily V. Troiano, Senior Director, Catalyst Information Center, explores the question of whether women are truly the “richer sex” when it comes to earnings. While there are some hopeful indicators, Emily describes a landscape that is not as rosy as some commentators describe.


Reading about the status of women in the United States can give you whiplash—sometimes it seems as though women are hitting their stride at home and in the workplace, while other times the prospect of fairness seems so bleak that even a game of golf is out of reach.

Stories about whether women outearn men are a perfect example of that dichotomy. Some are intentionally misleading, driven by an ideological agenda. In other cases, the authors seem to have misunderstood the facts they include. As a result, Catalyst decided to explore this topic, and recently published Do Women Outearn Men in the United States?: The Facts.

Are women outearning men? The answer is... some are. But more aren’t. It’s an important distinction to make, because overemphasizing the progress women have made could damage efforts to address the many barriers that still hinder change and advancement.

So, what are the facts?

In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 38 percent of working wives outearned their husbands. This number is for all husbands, and includes men who are unemployed as well as those who are retired, in school, and on disability. For dual-earner couples, or couples in which both the husband and wife were currently employed, 29 percent of wives outearned their husbands—that’s still less than 3 in 10.

Not quite the “end of men,” is it?

What’s more, these numbers only include wives with earnings, who are a subset of the greater picture. Wives who earned more than their husbands, whether their husbands had earnings or not, represented 9 percent of the total labor force. And women who are part of dual career couples who outearn their husbands are only 6 percent of the labor force. Further only 4 percent of married-couple families with children under 18 have the wife in the labor force while the husband stays at home.

What this means it that while the narrative of high-powered women and their lower-income or stay-at-home husbands certainly is part of the landscape in the United States, it’s not as prevalent as we might think. And although young, single, childless women in metropolitan areas may earn more than men for a period of time, that’s before they run into a motherhood penalty and other obstacles such as gender stereotypes for leaders and biased talent-management systems.

On average, women earn less than men: Catalyst found that, even when taking into account experience, job level, industry and more, on average women are paid $4,600 less in their first post-MBA jobs than men. Parenthood and aspirations were not to blame. Looking at all full-time, year-round workers, based on median annual earnings, women still earn only 77.4 percent of men’s earnings.

Where we’re left is this: women have made some progress on the home front and work front. Men have too, especially those with an awareness of gender inequities and an interest in fairness. But much change still needs to happen, and having honest facts that shine a light on what actually is going on is one critical step.


Emily V. Troiano manages Catalyst’s Information Center and fills numerous library roles, including product development and responding to research requests on a variety of topics from member organizations, Catalyst staff, members of the media, and outside researchers. Ms. Troiano also manages and develops content for Catalyst’s intranet and external website, has authored a tool on workplace trends, and has served on the Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.