With the recent discussion of Dr. Helen’s Men on Strike I decided to take another look at the US Census Current Population Survey data on marital status and earnings. Note that the dollar figures presented are not adjusted for inflation, and represent earnings, not income. Also note that the years selected represent five year increments except for the first one (1999), which is as far back as I could easily find data. As I have done before I have limited the data set to White Non Hispanics to simplify the analysis and avoid picking up trends which might be caused by changing racial demographics. If you are interested in data for other races, I have 2012 charts for White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, and All Races.
As I mentioned in a previous post looking at the data set, what immediately stands out is the surprisingly high percentage of adults with zero earnings, especially since the data set excludes the homeless or those in prison or other institutions. We would expect a fairly high percentage of married women to have no earnings, but surprisingly high percentages of unmarried men and women now have no earnings as well. This trend predates the recent Great Recession, but not surprisingly there was a further increase during the recession. Here is a look at the percentages of early thirties married and unmarried men and women with zero earnings over time:
If we add in the percentages of each group which earned more than zero but less than $15k it looks like this:
Unmarried early thirties men are the potential husbands marriage delaying women are counting on to whisk them into a glamorous married life, yet nearly a third of these men earn nothing or close to nothing. While some of these low and non earning men are no doubt in this position for truly temporary reasons due to the extremely poor economy, for many others this represents a lack of professional attainment which will be extremely difficult to overcome. A young man with low or no earnings has much more potential to improve than an early 30s or older man in the same position. These men can no more go back and focus their 20s on education and career than unmarried older women can go back to their early 20s and focus on finding a husband.
There is another striking feature of the data, and that is the obvious motivation of married men. This shows up most prominently in the extremes, when looking at the zero earnings bracket as well as the top earnings bracket. The difference is visible across time and becomes more pronounced with higher age brackets. The animation below walks through the different age brackets showing the percentage of each group which earned nothing over time:
Note that as the age categories become older in the chart above unmarried men more and more closely resemble women (married or unmarried). The trend is very similar when looking at the same progression for those earning over $75k:
There is a great deal going on with earnings trends, and this is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the topic. However, it is quite clear that what we are witnessing is anything but the “end of men”. What we are seeing at the extremes is married men doing whatever it takes to succeed in a terrible economy, while the results for unmarried men are similar to that of women.
The different behaviors of married vs unmarried men is important because what we are seeing is the benefit to society of a marriage based family structure. Marriage motivates men to work harder than unmarried men as well as women (married or unmarried). Feminists coined the term patriarchal dividend to describe the supposed free lunch men gain in a patriarchal society. However, what decades of feminism has proven is the real dividend was not to the men themselves but to society as a whole, as married men were motivated to produce in excess of their own personal needs. As we continue our societal drift away from marriage we will experience less and less of this benefit, as more and more men respond to the new economic signals and elect to enjoy the decline.