Married Men Outearn Single Men (and Women as a Whole)

December 24, 2018

The wage gap between men and women has been well documented. But when marital status is factored in, single men tend to earn roughly what single women and married women do, while married men far outearn the other three groups, according to a recent Economic Synopses essay.

Research Officer and Economist Guillaume Vandenbroucke first broke down wages by men and women, focusing on employed people with at least a high school diploma.


He noted three things that jump out about the chart:

  • Wages tended to increase through age 50.
  • After 50, wages tended to decrease.
  • The salary difference between men and women was much less pronounced in people’s early working years.

“It is tempting to ascribe this latter point to the fact that younger women are more likely to get married, have children and eventually withdraw from the labor force,” Vandenbroucke wrote. “Once out of the labor force, these women would not accumulate human capital, and, subsequently, they would lose ground relative to men. This would explain why the difference in wages grows with age.”

Factoring Marital Status into the Discussion

As a way to test the validity of this theory, Vandenbroucke replotted the same data, but segmented it further by marital status.

married men womens wages

Differences When Including Marital Status

Vandenbroucke’s first observation is that there was very little, if any, difference between single men and single women.

Next was that single women and married women also earned similar wages. “This is surprising since married women may be more likely to have children than single women,” he noted. “Thus, this second point is not consistent with the view that the gender wage gap results from women having children earlier in life and losing ground in human capital accumulation relative to men.”

His final observation was that married men earned significantly more than the other three categories. He cautioned that the data don’t imply that being married increases a man’s wage: “It might be that men with higher wages are more likely to marry; therefore, the average married man earns a higher wage than the average single man.”

“The gender wage gap remains a complicated topic,” Vandenbroucke concluded. “But progress may come from asking different questions: not just why women earn less than men (although not compared with single men), but also why married men earn so much more than everyone else.”

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