Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reversal of the gender gap

Today's NYT summarizes research by MIT economist David Autor that examines why men have been losing ground economically over the last three decades while women have been advancing.  (Click here for the full study.) The raw data show that women are now much more likely to attend and complete college than men, the percentage of men who are in the labor force has been falling, and male earnings have been falling. 

There is a real puzzle here: we all know the returns to higher education have grown tremendously over the last 50 years.  So why would men not take advantage of this opportunity?  Theories abound.  Some think women are more adaptable; others think men have become less industrious.  Autor thinks changes in family structure may be partly to blame.  More and more children grow up in single parent households (where the parent is female most of the time) and some research has shown that boys in these households do worse than girls. 

A vicious cycle also ensues: with fewer men available who can contribute economically to a marriage, more women in all socio-economic strata are having children on their own.  Which naturally creates another generation of boys and young men who are economically disadvantaged. 

Although overall men still earn more than women, among younger workers the gap is narrowing and may soon reverse. 

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