Economic Growth

Who has the highest earnings in the US? Clue: It's not white men

Pedestrians cross a road at Tokyo's business district September 30, 2014. Japanese big manufacturers' confidence improved slightly in the three months to September, a closely watched central bank survey showed, but service-sector sentiment worsened, adding to evidence that a sales tax hike continues to weigh on the economy. Picture taken September 30, 2014.

A new Pew Research Center report looks at pay across gender and ethnicity in the US. Image: REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Danielle Paquette
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United States

The Pew Research Center has released a new report on how Americans are paid by race and gender— and boy, are there some bombshells for those interested in our nation’s wage disparities.

We talk (and argue) often about the gender wage gap, that women in the United States make, on average, 79 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to government data. Economists say this earnings chasm comes from a blend of career choices, discrimination and unconscious bias. (See a more thorough explanationhere.)

Pew found women typically still take home smaller paychecks than men. Among full and part-time workers last year, they earned 83 percent of what their male counterparts made. The gap significantly grows for black and Hispanic women.

But here are five other, less-discussed angles in the pay conversation:

1. America's top earners are Asian men

Racial and gender wage gaps persist in the United States, though they’ve narrowed for some groups in recent years. (Pew used white men as the comparison group, since they comprise the largest chunk of the work force at 33 percent.)

All groups trail white men in earnings — except Asian men. They made 117 percent of what white men earned in 2015:

White men out-earn black and Hispanic men and all groups of women
Image: Pew Research Centre

Last year, average hourly wages for black and Hispanic men were $15 and $14, while white men pocketed $21 and Asian men made $24.

2. Women consistently make less money than men of their race, but white and Asian women outearn black and Hispanic men

“While the hourly earnings of white men continue to outpace those of women, all groups of women have made progress in narrowing this wage gap since 1980,” the Pew authors wrote, “reflecting at least in part a significant increase in the education levels and workforce experience of women over time.”

Average hourly earnings in 2015 were $18 for Asian women, $17 for white women, $13 for black women and $12 for Hispanic women.

The gender wage gap has also narrowed more for Asian and white women since 1980. White women at the time made, on average, 60 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Last year, that number shot up to 82 cents, while the Asian women’s average rose to 87 cents.


A history of the long fight for gender wage equality. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Black women over the last four decades narrowed the gap by 9 cents, from 56 cents to 65 cents. Hispanic women’s gap closed by 5 cents.

3. The wage gap has held steady for black and Hispanic men

Black men took home the same 73 percent share of white men’s hourly pay in 1980 as they did in 2015, the Pew analysis shows. Hispanic men made 69 percent of white men’s earnings in 2015 compared with 71 percent in 1980.

“To be sure,” the authors wrote, “some of these wage gaps can be attributed to the fact that lower shares of blacks and Hispanics are college educated. U.S. workers with a four-year college degree earn significantly more than those who have not completed college.”

Among adults older than 25, 23 percent of black workers and 15 percent of Hispanic earners have a bachelor’s degree or more education. That share is 36 percent for whites and 53 percent for Asians.

Pew points out that, even controlling for education, disparities remain. Cornell University’s Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn attribute at least 30 percent of the wage gap to factors “unexplained,” which they dub discrimination.

Black and Hispanic men with college degrees earn about 80 percent of the hourly wages of white men with similar educational backgrounds, according to Pew. That share falls to 70 percent for black and Hispanic women.

 Controlling for education, white men still out-earned most groups in 2015
Image: Pew Research Center

4. More men see their gender as a benefit. Women, a liability

Twenty-seven percent of the women Pew surveyed said their gender has “made it harder” for them to succeed in life, compared with 7 percent of men.

Six in 10 respondents of both genders, however, say their sex hasn’t made a sizable difference on their economic opportunity.

But men were much more likely than women to say their gender was a bonus: 30 percent said their sex has made it easier to succeed, while just eight percent of women reported the same.

5. Black and Hispanic Americans are far more likely to report unfair treatment in the workplace

Roughly two-thirds of black respondents said black people receive harsher treatment than whites in the workplace. Just 22 percent of whites and 38 percent of Hispanics agree.

Twenty-one percent of black respondents and 16 percent of Hispanics reported being treated unfairly in hiring, pay or promotion in the past year because of their race. Four percent of white adults said the same.

Forty percent of blacks, meanwhile, said their race has made it tougher to succeed in life, compared with 20 percent of Hispanics. A mere 5 percent of whites reported similar feelings — but 31 percent of whites said their race eased their path toward success.

Blacks' and whites' views and experiences of the U.S workplace differ
Image: Pew Research Center
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