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  < Back to Contents
  Chapter Nine:

  Average Earnings
  Minority Earnings
  Average Incomes
  Personal Consumption
  Philanthropic Donations
  Personal Debt
  Income Distribution



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Minority Earnings

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Although the equalization of women’s and men’s earnings proceeded slowly, the process accelerated after 1980. The gap between the average earnings of white male workers and black male workers also narrowed.
The ratio of female to male earnings moved upward during most of the century, except for a moderate downturn from 1955 to 1980, when women were entering the labor force in large numbers. After 1980, however, the equalization of women’s and men’s earnings accelerated. Legislation mandating equal employment criteria and promotion opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and equal access to occupational training, especially in privileged occupations, was instrumental in this change. 

In 1997, the earnings of women working full-time year-round were equal to only 74 percent of the earnings of male full-time, year-round workers. This comparison, however, ignored large differences between the average qualifications of men and women in the labor force. When women were compared with men of equivalent education and work experience, much of this difference in earnings disappeared. Among Americans aged twenty-seven to thirty-three, for example, women who never had a child earned an average of 98 percent of men’s earnings. 

Data on earnings by race for the early years of the century are not available, but anecdotal evidence suggests that by 1940 the earnings gap between black and white males had narrowed considerably. From 1940 to 1980, the ratio of black male earnings to white male earnings increased substantially. There was a brief decline around 1990, but by 1997, the earnings of black men working full-time, year-round had climbed to 76 percent of the earnings of their white counterparts. 

Some of the difference between the earnings of black and white males can be traced to their levels of education. Although the difference in educational achievement between black and white males was much smaller at the end of the century than at midcentury, the education gap remained substantial. In 1998, 27 percent of white males, but only 14 percent of black males, had completed at least four years of college.

Chapter 9 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

SA 1998, tables 696, 697, and 745; and SA 1999, tables 702 and 703. See also June O’Neill and Solomon Polacheck, “Why the Gender Gap Narrowed in the 1980s,” Journal of Labor Economics 11, no. 1 (1993):205–228, table 1; James P. Smith and Finis R. Welch, “Black Economic Progress After Myrdal,” Journal of Economic Literature 27 (1989):519–564, table 1; and Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba, Women’s Figures (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1999), page xvii.


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