The Truth Behind the Rumor That Young Women Have Beat the Wage Gap

Last Updated Sep 10, 2010 10:11 AM EDT

Millennial women have done what their grandmothers, mothers, and big sisters couldn't: they've closed the wage gap!
Heck, they've shot right past it. Single, childless women ages 22 to 30 on average make 8% more than the full-time, median earnings of single, childless men of the same age.

Problem solved!

Not so fast, says James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, the market research firm that plucked this set of statistics from the thickets of the census reports.

Commentators have made much of this apparent breakthrough, but few have bothered to talk with Reach to get the full story. I did, and here it is.

It's pretty simple: more women are graduating from college than men, so more young women are qualified for higher-paying entry-level jobs. Thus, in aggregate, millennial women are earning more than millennial men as they start their careers.

Millennial Hispanic and black women make even more -- as much as twice - as Hispanic and black men of the same age. That's because the education gap is even wider between Hispanic and black young women and men than it is for whites. This doesn't mean that women in particular professions, industries or job categories are making more than their male peers. It also doesn't have anything to do with what individual women make compared to their male colleagues. And most of all, this doesn't relate to married young women or the biggest earnings barrier of all: children.

Does this contradict the recent findings of the Institute for Women's Policy Research that female-dominated professions make less than male-dominated professions? Not in the least. In fact, the contrast highlights the challenge facing young women as they try to advance. As life gets more complicated, they will face trade-offs."The real question is what will happen as they move through life stages," says Chung.

Immediate implications are already unfolding for those who market to highly educated young women. "They are reshaping the consumer market," says Chung. This is not a Carrie Bradshaw crowd. They're careful about how they spend their money, which explains why they are now the single largest demographic of first-time homebuyers. They're less likely to live at home with their parents, which means that condo and apartment developers suddenly must think about the specific lifestyle preferences of young, single, affluent women. These days, units are a bit smaller, the better to trim costs. Designers must figure out how to integrate features that appeal to young women without adding much space.

Reach is advising builders to include built-ins, for instance, and small, high quality features that speak quality. Lifestyle dictates function. "Women still read for pleasure. Men don't," says Chung. "So: bookcases. They create zero value for men. They create value for women. Those are the kind of details that make a difference, that you have to think about with millennial women."
Morguefile image by chelle.
  • Joanne Cleaver

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