Study: Men’s earnings shrink
American men in their 30s earn less than their fathers’ generation did at the same age, potentially reversing longtime assumptions that each successive generation will be better off than their predecessors, according to a study released Friday.
Family incomes of thirtysomething men have continued to rise in recent decades, but mostly because more of their wives are working, the study’s authors said. Yet even with the addition of women’s paychecks, the rate of family income growth has slowed.
Taken together with data showing more workers are earning less in comparison with the stratospheric incomes of top earners, the report suggests that a growing number of Americans “believe that the rules of the game are no longer fair,” said John E. Morton, director of the Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts and one of the study’s lead authors.
In 2004, the median income for a man in his 30s was $35,010, 12% less than that of men in their 30s in 1974, adjusted for inflation, according to the study, which was based on Census Bureau data. By contrast, thirtysomething men in 1994 earned 5% more than their older counterparts.
Researchers focused on that age group because income in one’s 30s is a good predictor of lifetime income, according to the report.
Outsourcing and the demise of higher-paying manufacturing jobs have contributed to the stagnation in men’s incomes, Morton said. The influx of well-educated women into the workforce since the 1970s may also have exerted downward pressure on men’s wages, he said.
Freelance television editor Chapen Hayslett said he earned $48,000 to $50,000 when he worked steadily, a figure that he said was probably less than what his father made at the same age as an Air Force officer.
The 31-year-old North Hollywood resident hasn’t discussed the income difference much with his parents, but he said they understood that “employers are being more selective and paying less.”
Hayslett said the $80,000 in student loans he accumulated earning his film degree at USC might have limited his earning potential, at least in the short run.
“I didn’t have the ability to take as many risks in taking jobs or being more decisive,” he said. “It was ... ‘Oh my God, I need a job.’ ”
The Pew report is the first in a planned series of studies on economic mobility, drawing together researchers representing prominent think tanks from across the political spectrum, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.
The generational income gap highlights troubling questions, Morton said, including what happens if an increasing percentage of Americans believe the American dream “is off limits to them.”
The Pew study does not make policy recommendations. But economist Heather Boushey, with the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, contends that focusing on low-wage jobs would help curb the relative slide in men’s earnings. In particular, she supports boosting the pay of low-wage jobs above the minimum wage, along with on-the-job training that encourages career advancement.
A stronger push to college also could help raise men’s earnings.
“Education has always been the one staircase out of the class-stratified society,” said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. Yet among those under 50, 32% of women hold a four-year college degree, compared with 23% of men. That’s a dramatic change from the past, when younger men were better educated than younger women.
Die-hard careerist baby boomers may partly explain the inability of thirtysomething men to move up the income ladder as quickly as their fathers. From the moment Generation Xers first set foot in the workplace, the boomers have been the “ceiling” blocking their way up the income ladder, said Peter Rose, a partner with marketing research firm Yankelovich Inc. in Los Angeles.
“The boomers stand out in defining themselves in terms of their work and have shown a disinclination to get out of the way,” he said.
Freelancer Hayslett thinks there’s another factor at play: “Honestly, it seems that women are more together,” he said.
They’re more stable and focused, he said, as compared with “a lot of guys who feel so frustrated that they tend to move around and leave.”
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Annual median income for men in their 30s, adjusted for inflation
Median income for families with men in their 30s
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts