I don’t remember when I first heard about the “gender pay gap”. I was likely in high school or college and didn’t pay much attention to the idea. I didn’t feel I needed to – I’m a white guy just starting his career, it’s not like it’s something I could do anything about. This is a common mindset for things we feel we can’t change. I’m here today to re-evaluate that mindset and see – is there something you can do?
The wage gap between men and women is a notoriously complex research problem to solve, but the question (and answer) are always the same:
Are women paid differently for the same job? (answer: yes)
One question I always wanted to look at from the data from The Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence was how prominent this issue is in our corner of the world – the financial blogging community. In the anonymized guide data I made it a point to ask gender – even though that’s not included in the calculations on the page.
After reading Bitches Get Riches great article One Reason Women Make Less Money? They’re Afraid of Being Raped and Killed, it seemed a good time to take a deeper look at the data and see – do women in the finance community make less money?
The Audience of the Interactive Guide
Before getting to the data, it’s important to consider the audience that provided data for it. This group isn’t representative of the general population of the US. It’s a self-selecting group who are interested in financial independence, early retirement, and finance.
At the moment I’m not tracking referrer (man, that would’ve made for some interesting results). The bulk of the traffic has come from 4 main sources:
- Being featured on Rockstar Finance
- Being the top post in the /r/financialindependence subreddit for a day
- Being shared on the You Need a Budget weekly roundup
- Tons of people sharing it on Twitter and Facebook – including a number of people with some serious follower counts (thanks, everyone!)
For the group being analyzed today, I’m also removing anyone from the data who didn’t change at least 5 fields in the guide to normalize the data. This brings the sample size to 13,646 used for this analysis!
Why Look at the Gender Pay Gap?
One thing that’s most close to the heart for me is that the data for this report is the gender pay gap data of people who read my blog. This isn’t a study done by anonymous people somewhere in a clinical environment – these are the stats of people who have commented on posts, that I’ve had beers with at conferences and emailed back and forth with. If you’re another blogger or blog reader (hey, that’s you!), then these are people like you – who are choosing to read an article on a personal finance website for fun.
I’m sorry to say the results won’t be quite so fun.
Understanding that there is a problem is a part of fixing it. As long as women and men are compensated differently for similar work, the workforce is unequal.
First a caveat. There are a number of common issues brought up about the wage gap that won’t be addressed. This includes differences in experience, the similarity of jobs, location, number of hours worked, the choice to take a break from the workforce or being forced to take a break. These are all important issues to be sure, but those aren’t a part of my dataset. If you’re interested in a look at a larger recent research project, check out the Freakonomics podcast on What Can Uber Teach Us About the Gender Pay Gap.
A second caveat. This post is about men and women, but there are other minorities who are also not represented. I didn’t ask for race in the post (another takeaway for next time), otherwise, I would have been able to make some additional insights. That’s on me for not thinking about it initially.
There is a lot of data to parse through. In this post, I’ll be mostly focused on the question:
How does the salary difference between men and women impact financial independence or early retirement?
Luckily there are plenty of data points for each person to evaluate this including gender, age, salary, spending, investment total and more. This wealth of data is all anonymized (if you opt-out, your stats won’t be shown).
One of the questions within the guide is about what stage people during their life. The options are:
- I’m saving money for retirement.
- I’m retired.
- I’m paying off debt.
All of the respondents I’ll use in this guide are in the “I’m saving for retirement” group. What I’m not accounting for is people who choose to leave the workforce.
Although more genders are represented in the guide than just men and women, the needed minimum to dive into those groups hasn’t yet been reached. For that reason, this article is all about the gender pay gap between men and women only – not specifically trans people or other groups.
While 0.62% of respondents have been trans people, that wasn’t enough information for me to understand how their compensation compares with men or women. Trans people between 20 and 75 years old have used the guide, with most between 24 and 31 – the same group age group that was most likely to use the guide for men and women.
Calculating the Gender Pay Gap
So what is the gender pay gap? Simply put it’s the difference in pay between a man and woman. If the “gender pay gap” amount was calculated to be 80%, then women make $0.80 for every $1 a man makes. So if a man makes $100,000 a year, a corresponding woman would make, on average $80,000.
That’s most often how the gender pay gap is represented – a single, simple percentage where it can put in a Tweet: “Women make $.80 on the dollar to what men make!”.
For the purposes of this post, I’m mostly going to be looking at the gender pay gap through the lens of men and women at the same age.
The first thing I noticed about the data was that the pay gap isn’t a straight line when mapped against age. Unfortunately, it’s not a pleasant picture.
When this chart rendered I was more than a little shocked. I’ve heard women make less than men, but seeing it stand out that starkly and with such a pronounced trend line down honestly scared the hell out of me.
First off, let’s point out that women at ages 35, 42, 48 make more than their male counterparts (on median). The numbers jump quite a lot due to the small number of people at any point (there are still 100 women, 200 men at age 40).
There’s a lot I could infer or guess as to why this difference exists, but honestly, it would just be me reiterating things I read. You can make your conclusions, but this much is fact: the median salary of female readers of this blog is less than their male counterparts for their age. That’s a problem.
Salary By Gender
One thing I wondered was just how much salaries differed by age. At what age are men or women achieving their “peak” salary? Pursuing financial independence is all about maximizing your “highest earning years” after all. Which years are those – and are they different from men and women?
Men in our data peak around 39 with a median salary of $176,000. To be honest, this is a SUPER high salary. Apparently, Minafi readers and those interested in early retirement have some money to throw around. There are a few spikes later on, but none are far and above that number.
For women, salaries spike at age 42 with a median salary of $157,000. At almost every year up until age 42, men have a 3-year head-start on women. Immediately out of college, at ages 26-27, men and women are making the same amount. This could be a sign that the wage gap in the coming millennial generation may not be as large as for past generations. I’ll be curious to look back at this data in 5 years and see.
For college-age women though, the trend to be paid less than their college-age male counterparts is concerning.
Men have a 3 year head start.
This is the most important part to me. Having that quick start to their careers and higher earnings in their 20s, men gain a 3-year head start by the time they are 28.
Salary By Generation
Looking at the numbers for all ages has some serious ups and downs. If we split out the data by generation, it’s clear that men continue to earn into their 40s, while women’s salaries level off sooner.
The wage gap grows over time, with the wage gap difference starting at 10% and growing to 37% by baby boomer ages.
Net Worth By Gender and Age
One question asked in the guide is that of net worth – specifically of investments and cash (not real estate). With men and women making drastically different wages over time, how does that impact net worth?
Similar to salary, the net worth of women trails men by about 3 years. Also, this data excludes people over 50. After that, the numbers start to get a little buggy (I think it includes more of a mix of people that are retired but were using the guide to optimize their retirement).
Why do women’s salaries and net worth go down in their 40s?
I have no data on this question to answer it, but for viewers of this blog, it does. If you’re reading this, and you’re in your 40s, and you’re willing to share your story, I’d love to hear it. I have a number of guesses on this. I worry these may come off as offensive, but please understand this is me trying to make sense of this difference. These are purely speculative and won’t all be true for anyone.
- Women are more likely to leave the workforce to raise children, causing their salaries to suffer in their 40s.
- With men making more money at earlier ages, in the event of a divorce, women are more likely to see their net worth decline with less ability to recover.
- Women are more likely to gain child custody in a divorce, resulting in increased spending and more work later in life.
- With women more likely to look after a child, they are also more likely to choose jobs that allow flexible shifts – limiting the job market.
- With women gaining child custody more often, they are more likely to shoulder college tuition in those situations, resulting in a net worth decline.
- Women are more likely to look after their aging parents, potentially in their 60s or older by this age.
Every one of these could also be true for a man, but as a population overall, I think these would all lean towards women.
What else could contribute to this? If you have thoughts (either one I could answer with data, or speculative ones) feel free to chime in in the comments.
Spending by Gender and Age
So, we know that men’s income and net worth go up, with about a 3 year lead on women. Are the spending habits of men and women different as well? I assumed there would be some major differences based on the sheer difference in the salaries.
What’s most interesting to me about this is that women seem to max out their spending at $70k (age 44), while men’s spending peaks at $86k (age 54). If there’s a specific age for men to have a “mid-life crisis” where they start buying a ton of stuff, it’s clear from this data that it’s going to happen sometime between 38 and 41 years old. Women don’t seem to have a similar crisis in their spending.
Looking at spending by generation, we can see one more thing stand out: women’s spending goes down, while men’s stays the same. Men are more likely to fall prey to lifestyle inflation.
Millennial women and men are also spending roughly the same amount – despite men making 10% more for the same age range. This helps to show why men’s net worth grows more: men and women are enjoying a similar lifestyle, but men are making (and able to save) more while enjoying it.
Savings Rate by Gender & Age
With men earning more and spending more, what about savings rate? Savings rate is possibly the most important single number with looking at financial independence. Tracking savings rate over time is a great way to see if you’re experiencing lifestyle inflation.
Gender Pay Gap Recap
Ok, so that was a lot of data. Here’s a tl;dr:
- Men make more money than women at almost every age.
- Men’s salaries tend to be 3 years ahead of women’s salaries at the same age (starting around age 28).
- Women’s net worth is also 3 years behind men’s.
- Men & Women’s spending habits are similar until age 37. After that, men start to outspend women.
- Men’s savings rate declines much more sharply than women’s over time.
What Can We Do About It?
There’s a lot we could do! I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but there’s still some wisdom to be drawn from recent events, books, and Twitter discussions.
If you’re a Man
- Treat women in your profession the same as men.
- Notice when you’re excluding people and take steps to include them in some way.
- Learn more about unconscious bias and emotional labor.
- Talk to women in your life and make it a point to understand their difficulties.
- (You don’t even have to solve their issues – just hear them.)
- Read more books by women and watch more movies/tv by women.
- Participate in book clubs, chats or other conversations in support of women. (We’re reading Feminist Fight Club at work now, which has made for great conversations).
If you’re a Woman
- When negotiating salary, ask for more money than you think.
- Take credit for your success. Don’t say it was “luck” or “chance” when it was due to hard work.
- Don’t let others take credit for your successes. If someone is taking credit, you can always say “I’m glad you agree with my idea”.
- Apply for jobs you aren’t completely qualified for. Men tend to apply when they meet less of a job’s requirements than women applicants.
If You’re a Manager
- Hire women as managers! Managers tend to hire people like themselves. With more diversity in management, comes more diversity everywhere.
- Rotate any secretarial work. Taking “meeting notes” isn’t a woman’s job, but a group job.
- Interview at least 1 woman for every position.
- If a candidate (man or woman) low-balls you with a salary, offer them more than they asked for. (Thanks for the idea PF Geeks)
- Create a safe place for everyone.
Diverse Teams Create Better Products
Even if you’re not sold on the idea that the gender pay gap is a major problem, at least think about how important diverse representation across teams is.
For example, look at Twitter and Facebook. Both were created by young white guys with initial teams that were a monoculture. Both platforms have had problems with trolling and harassment, but somehow Twitter has largely been the focus for bad actors. Why is that?
Two words: Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook hired Sheryl Sandberg to a leadership role in 2007 as Chief Operating Officer. In addition to helping Facebook become profitable, she was a voice for women on their leadership team. When Mark Zuckerberg was envious of Twitter’s growth and recommended more open profiles for users, it was Sandberg and others that were able to be a voice for groups who would be most negatively impacted by the change.
Many of the problems that Twitter, Reddit and other fast-growing companies created by mostly men are encountering today could have been avoided by having more diverse teams from the start. Today, problems like trolling on Twitter and Reddit are so widespread that it’s hard to ever see a solution without rebuilding the communities from the ground up.
If you’re curious to hear more about the Twitter/Facebook/Reddit story, I’d recommend checking out the book Brotopia.
What are your thoughts on the gender pay gap? Can you think of other things men, women, or managers could do to help level the playing field and support the women in your life? Please let me know.