What the median full-time income tells us about the gender pay gap

BY Elizabeth Shell  April 17, 2014 at 5:48 PM EDT

Roll over the chart to see how men’s and women’s median weekly income has changed over the past decade. Figures are quarterly averages, seasonally and inflation adjusted. Data: BLS

$791. That’s the median weekly income for the 104.3 million full-time wage and salary workers in the U.S during the first quarter of 2014. Based on new data released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and assuming workers average 50 weeks a year, staying at that rate equates to a median annual income of roughly $39,550.

The story is a bit different between male and female workers, as you might have heard. The oft-cited figure by President Barack Obama and others is that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn. And while that may be technically true, it’s also rather misleading. It doesn’t account for education levels, job type, seniority level, or temporarily leaving the workforce to have children, for example. The 77 cents figure doesn’t account for all these nuances. (Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has a nice breakdown.) When it comes to looking at pay for equal work, the figure is estimated to be closer to 91 cents.

So back to the median weekly income. What does that number tell us about the pay gap? For one, it’s a teeny bit more of an accurate measure of the wage gap as it eliminates variables like bonuses or time off. In the first quarter of 2014 — Jan. 1 through March 31 — the median income for women was $716 a week; for men, $867. The difference works out to women earning about 82.5 percent of a man’s income dollar. At that rate, that works out to a difference of about $7,500 between men and women’s median annual income for 2014. (See caveats above.)

However, adjusting median weekly incomes for inflation over each quarter for the past decade, that rate has been relatively consistent — ranging from 79.5 percent to a high of 82.9 percent during the first quarter of 2012.

But overall, the median weekly incomes for women are making some small advances: the 2014 figure is 1.15 percent higher compared to the same period in 2013, and 1.1 percent higher than that of a decade ago. Men, however, are making about 0.3 percent less than a year ago and 1.78 percent less in median weekly earnings compared to the first quarter of 2005.