Gender pay gap narrowing, but mobility gap persists


Recently released data shows the earnings gap between men and women narrowing, but men are still more upwardly mobile than women, particularly when their parents have lower incomes. Photo Troels Graugaard/Getty Images.

Women are closing the gender earnings gap, if you’re to believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2012 Women’s Earnings Report, released last week. Last year, women made 82 percent of the median earnings of men working full-time — up from 62 percent in 1979, the first year from which data is available. (And that gap narrows significantly for women without children.)

BLS data also recently told us that women working part-time earn more than men working part-time, leading to speculation that when work-life decisions are considered, women are doing just as well as men. Is this the “End of Men,” as Atlantic journalist Hanna Rosin has asked?

Not so fast, says the Brookings Institution. The picture for women in mobility studies is not so rosy. Women are moving up in the world, but when compared to men, the gap persists: 64 percent of women live in families with incomes higher than those of the households in which they grew up, compared to 69 percent of men, according to the Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts and Brookings.

Women born in the bottom quintiles of parental incomes are more likely to remain poor than are men born into the same circumstances, according to Brookings’ research. Of children born to parents whose incomes fall in the bottom quintile, 47 percent of women will be stuck there, compared to 35 percent of men. And when women do “make it,” Brookings points out, they lose that standing more easily than men: women’s “stuckness” to their childhood economic strata, it seems, is more sticky.

Brookings’ “social mobility memo” is a reminder that recently released earnings data may not tell the whole story, and that even though there’s exhaustive research on declining upward mobility in America (see “The Great Gatsby Curve: Inequality and the End of Upward Mobility” and “Neighborhood as Destiny? What’s Unknown about Stork Drops and Mobility?” on the Business Desk), gender is less often part of the conversation.

H/T Simone Pathe