(Originally posted December 11, 2012)
I have been thinking about the income inequality issues, both gender income differences and class warfare issues, and scouting around for some data. Somebody did a study that suggested income inequality is much less extreme on an individual income basis than on a household income basis. In other words, if all the historical data were adjusted to remove the effects on household incomes of multiple incomes per household, the inequality reported today would be less extreme. That study included a chart, copied below, showing the rise in single person households from about 13% of total households in 1960 to about 27% of households in 2011, suggesting that low income single person households have worsened household income inequality. Clearly two persons in a household, each earning a relatively low $20,000 per year, can live much more comfortably, assuming some basic compatibility, together than separately and are going to report a respectable household income based on two meager individual incomes. Teamwork has its benefits. I guess that rise in single person households indicates that we are getting lonelier and more selfish. Thank goodness for Facebook and the “friends” it provides.
While searching the Census Bureau website for data to reproduce the above chart I found a nice spreadsheet that provides a breakdown in household types for various income categories for both men and women. I thought that might provide some insight to the gender income inequality issue. An interesting pattern I observed in the data is that, for men, income is highly correlated with one of the household types, “Married, Spouse Present.” The other household types included in the data are “Married Spouse Absent,” “Widowed,” “Divorced,” “Separated,” and “Never Married.” Men in the highest income category, more than $100k per year, are twice as likely to be married with spouse present, 80%, than men with incomes of $15k per year or less. And the percent married, spouse present, increases steadily with rising income. Click on the chart to read the fine print more easily.
It is interesting that the same relationship between marital status and income is not present for women. At the low end of the income scale and at the high end, 60% to 70% of the women are married with Spouse Present. That percentage dips a bit to the mid-fifties at the middle income range, but there is no overall trend in the data.
I suppose there are several possible explanations for these relationships:
- Men with good incomes have a hard time staying single.
- Men with good incomes have an easier time staying married…or a harder time getting divorced.
- Married men, spouse present, spend more time on their professions and therefore earn more because of either
- Pressure to provide for their spouses and children, or
- Need to get out of the house more, or
- A more disciplined life style, or
- A supportive spouse who advances their careers.
- And, perhaps women tend to be more independent and self-sufficient and less subject to any of these influences.
Recognizing there may be a bit of truth in all of items 1 – 4, I am going to suggest, based on personal experience that the primary reason may be found in Genesis 2:18 – It is not good for the man to be alone. It is hard telling where I would be today without my lovely wife of 48 years to keep an eye on me and help me out. I’d probably be living in a cabin in the Maine woods or in a South Carolina Low Country swamp.
I have not been able, yet, to solve the gender income inequality problem, but I think part of the answer to that may be found in Luke 12:15 – For a man’s (or woman’s) life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he (or she) possesseth. (I used the King James Version because this is kind of an old fashioned concept.) It just may be that women, on average, are slightly better than men at recognizing this truth and are therefore a bit less likely to dedicate themselves to pursuit of the almighty dollar and make the sacrifices required for income maximization. I’m not saying anything here about any individual men or women but just commenting on possible differences in the means. Just the same as in the case of Red States and Blue States, there is about as much variation within genders as between genders, so don’t ever make the mistake of prejudging ones greed or ambition based on gender.