Unexpectedly Intriguing!
August 9, 2012

We're continuing our series on men, women and income in the United States today, with our first stop being a look at the number of individual men and women counted as having income in the years from 1947 through 2010:

Number of Men and Women with Incomes in U.S., 1947-2010

In this chart, we see that the number of men earning incomes in the U.S. has grown at a fairly steady rate since 1947. But what's remarkable is that the number of women earning incomes in the U.S. has grown much faster, at least for the thirty years from 1947 through 1977. And then, the number of women earning incomes surged by over 14.5 million to surpass the number of men in the next two years, before settling in afterward to grow at a near equivalent rate of growth as that for men in all the years since.

Our next chart features the inflation-adjusted median income for men, women and combined for the years from 1947 through 2010, which we've presented in terms of constant 2010 U.S. dollars. Since the U.S. Census has only published the median income data for all Americans earning income in the years from 1974 onwards, we used the Census' median income data for men and women separately for each year since 1947 to estimate what the the combined median income would be for the years before 1974. Our results are below:

Median Real Income in the U.S. by Sex, 1947 - 2010

As best as we can tell, the apparent sudden shift in employer hiring preferences for women after 1977, which we observe in both the number of women with incomes with respect to men and the growing median income of women in the years since, combined with the greater sensitivity of men's median income to periods of economic recession, likely accounts for the stalling out of real median income growth for men in the years from 1977 through 1996.

Since 1996, the trend in median income growth for both men and women have been more similar, although it still appears that men's median income is still much more sensitive to economic downturns.

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