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A new study says that young, childless women now make more, on average, than their male counterparts. It's based on data gathered by the Census Bureau and analyzed by a private research firm.
As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, it's part of a long trend that mirrors a trend in education.
YUKI NOGUCHI: If you now look at most areas of the country, unmarried women without kids, from age 22 to 30, are making 8 percent more than men in the same demographic. And there is one major reason for that.
Mr. JAMES CHUNG (President, Reach Advisors): At this point in time, young women are 1.5 times more likely to earn college degrees than their male counterparts. That's a huge difference, and it's starting to reflect in average income.
NOGUCHI: That is James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, which did the study. Chung says it is still the case that overall, women make 80 percent of what men make. And this survey is not saying that a woman in the same job makes more than a man.
It's still not certain whether these findings signal a significant change. The big question is whether, as this group of women ages, marries or has children, their wage advantage will disappear.
Chung says he hasn't seen any evidence that it will go away. He points out that male-dominated industries like manufacturing were hit harder this recession. There are more women in managerial jobs now than men. And Chung says it's likely that when the economy rebounds, this new generation of women will be better poised to make more money.
Mr. CHUNG: We're seeing a preview of the post-recession economy - who's going to be out there earning the higher incomes, and who's going to be out there reshaping the markets.
NOGUCHI: So you're a man. How does this make you feel?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHUNG: I live in one of those households.
NOGUCHI: For the up-and-coming generation, it is simply the new norm, he says.
Jacqueline King is a policy analyst for the American Council on Education. She agrees education is the most important factor in explaining why younger women are making more than younger men. But she's not ready to say that these results mark a watershed event for women's wages overall.
Ms. JACQUELINE KING (Policy Analyst, American Council on Education): If you were to compare women and men with similar levels of education, you would find that the men do still continue to earn more, in part because they are more likely to choose higher-paying fields.
NOGUCHI: For nearly two decades, women have outnumbered men going to college. This is particularly pronounced among minority groups and at historically black colleges, where women outnumber men two to one.
Some colleges are now trying to attract more male students by starting men's groups, showcasing their sports, and offering subjects that tend to draw in men.
But King says the fact remains that even though women are going to college in greater numbers, they are more likely to take jobs in lower-paying fields like education, while men are more likely to end up in relatively high-paying positions in business and technology.
Ms. KING: Also, women are much more likely to take time away from their careers for child care and other family responsibilities, and that has an impact on their earnings over the course of their careers.
NOGUCHI: Chung, of Reach Advisors, says he plans to track these young women over the next few years to see whether, in fact, they do manage to close the gender gap.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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