The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released this new report on women’s earnings in 2016.  The difference in men and women’s earnings hasn’t changed much – on average women earned 81.9 percent of men’s earnings in 2016, compared to 81.1 in 2015. 

Undoubtedly some will use this occasion to create headlines about the stubborn “wage gap” and imply that rampant workplace discrimination is what causes men to earn more.  But the details in the report tell a different story. 

Dig into the numbers a bit and you’ll see that the wage gap is much smaller among younger workers than older workers.  Women age 16-24 earn 95 percent of their male peers’ earnings, compared to 75 percent for the oldest age group.  This is likely due to a combination of factors:  younger women are increasingly well-educated compared to men, earning more bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.  Also, the impact of the different choices men and women make about children and work accumulates over time.

The report also highlights how women and men cluster into different professions:  

Across all occupational categories, the three most common jobs for women were elementary and middle school teacher ($981), registered nurse ($1,143), and secretary or administrative assistant ($708). Each of these occupations employed more than 2 million women in 2016, collectively representing 13 percent of women in full-time wage and salary jobs.

Among men, the most common job by far was truck driver (driver/sales workers and truck drivers, $787). In 2016, 2.7 million, or 4 percent, of all male full-wage and salary workers were truck drivers. Although engineering jobs are shown separately by specialty (civil, mechanical, etc.) in this report, if combined, engineer would be the second most common job for men. In 2016, a total of 1.9 million men were employed full time in the 16 designated engineering specialties (median weekly earnings ranging from $1,526 to $1,901).

Feminists frustrated by stubborn gender roles will undoubtedly be unhappy to see that teacher, nurse, and secretary—classically female professions—still top the list for women. And while, of course it is worth considering how to make sure that women feel welcome in and consider other more potentially lucrative career paths, these women are still better positioned than many men.  Certainly the future of women in nursing and teaching seems more secure than that of the millions of men who are in trucking, an occupation which could be largely displaced by automation. 

This report is worth reading in full.  The sober presentation of data about women and men’s work life provides important insights into our economy and is a welcome change from the usual highly-politicized commentary about anything related to differences between the sexes.