Study: Men’s lifetime income slipping

A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper finds that men’s incomes are falling, while women’s incomes are rising.

An analysis of age cohorts in the United States finds, according to NBER’s August research digest, that the median male who turned 55 in 2013 earned $136,400 less in lifetime income — measured in constant 2013 dollars — than a man of the same age 16 years earlier.

Men who entered the workforce in 1983, the paper found, have seen their lifetime income decline by 10-19% compared to men who entered the workforce in 1967. For women, median lifetime income increased by 22-33% from the 1957 to the 1983 cohort — though, the size of this gain was largely attributable to the very low lifetime income of the earliest cohort.

According to the paper, this decline in lifetime income is slightly offset by better benefits, such as health care and pension contributions. But, as the NBER digest notes, “even using an upper bound estimate of the growth of such benefits, the researchers find that the 1983 cohort’s median
lifetime income was $96,100 lower than that of the 1967 cohort.”

What’s behind the dip?

The researchers attribute much of the dip in mid-career men’s income to what they earned in the early years of their careers. As NBER reports, “The median income for a 25-year-old in the 1967 cohort was $33,000, compared with $29,000 (inflation adjusted) in the 1983 cohort.” That means, unfortunately, that if your income was depressed in the early years of your career, you’re likely still paying for it today.

The broader trend

The findings are consistent with other data showing that young men are increasingly falling down the economic ladder, as male-dominated jobs are automated or off-shored. Meanwhile, fields that tend to employ more women — like health care and professional services — are growing.

Despite the slip in men’s incomes, women’s income in the U.S. still lags behind that of men.

What you should do

If you’re unhappy with your salary, the first thing you should do is ask for a raise. As George Anders writes for Ladders, most people wait to be given a raise, hoping good work will be recognized and rewarded. Instead, it’s generally the case that people do better when they ask for raises. It’s also important to know your worth, name your number, and know when to walk away.