May 12, 2002

As Salary Grows, So Does a Gender Gap


Women may be bringing home larger paychecks, but when it comes to earning the really serious money wages of $1 million or more men far outnumber them, as they did a generation ago.

Study results released recently by the Internal Revenue Service, based on an extensive analysis of wages reported by employers in 1998, show that men outnumbered women in the $1 million-plus category by more than 13 to 1. The I.R.S. said 43,662 men had annual salaries of at least $1 million four years ago, compared with 3,253 women. The men in that category earned, on average, $2.41 million, while the women earned $2.27 million, on average, or roughly 94 cents for each dollar the men earned.

A similar pattern was found in the $500,000-to-$1 million category, in which men outnumbered women 10 to 1, according to the I.R.S. But women in this category had slightly higher average incomes $670,000 versus $668,000.

The gap in total numbers, though, narrows steadily as pay decreases. In the $200,000-to-$500,000 class, men outnumbered women 9 to 1; in the $100,000-to-$200,000 class, the ratio was about 5 to 1; $75,000-to-$100,000, 3 to 1; and $50,000-to-$75,000, nearly 2 to 1.

It was not until wages were $25,000 to $30,000 that there were roughly equal numbers of men and women, according to the I.R.S. report in the winter 2001-2002 Statistics of Income Bulletin. In that class of wages, there were 5.7 million men and 5.3 million women.

At wages of less than $25,000, women outnumbered men, accounting for 57.6 percent of the wage earners in that category.

Economists say the 1998 salaries were shaped largely from trends that existed a generation ago, when women were less likely to work outside the home or to pursue high-paying careers.

"If we go back in time 20 or 30 years, women were quite scarce in the professions and in management, while they are well represented today," said Francine D. Blau, an economist at Cornell University.

Three decades ago, women accounted for only 3 percent of students seeking an M.B.A. degree, compared with about 30 percent today, added June O'Neill, an economist at Baruch College and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "Fewer women make it to the top because fewer women have set out from the start to make it to the top," she said.

Ms. O'Neill said the predominance of women among low-wage earners reflected decisions by many women to focus more on the family than on work, which often meant taking part-time or seasonal jobs.

Peter Sailer, who directed the I.R.S. study, said the results, combined with those of two previous studies, suggested that the substantial gender gap in high-income categories was narrowing gradually.

When comparing men and women with similar education, experience and commitment to full-time work, that difference in pay nearly disappears, Ms. O'Neill said. She said the data for people making $500,000 or more "suggest that the women who have geared their lives the same way as men seem to be doing approximately as well."

The data also showed that women making seven-figure salaries were more likely to be married than single, which both Ms. O'Neill and Ms. Blau found surprising. Of the 3,253 women with salaries of $1 million or more, 2,328, or 71 percent, were married and filed taxes jointly with their husbands.

The I.R.S. study found one category of very high-income Americans in which women outnumbered men: those with million-dollar-plus incomes who receive Social Security benefits. There were 3,342 women in that category, versus 2,519 men.

Those findings, of course, reflect the fact that women live longer than men.

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