NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women Receive Higher Pay -- And Pay A Higher Marriage Penalty

June 1, 1999

Women are continuing to make gains in the workplace; however, such gains are coming at the cost of higher taxes.

  • According to the Labor Department, median weekly earnings for women reached $456 in 1998, an increase of 14 percent since 1979 in real (inflation-adjusted) terms.
  • By contrast, earnings for men have declined by 7 percent over this same period, from $642 to $598.
  • As a result, women made 76.3 percent of what men made last year, compared with 62.5 percent in 1979.

Interestingly, women did better in some places than others.

  • Women in Washington, D.C., did best of all, earning 92.1 percent of what men made last year.
  • Those in California, New York, Missouri and Florida made more than 80 percent of men.
  • Those in North Dakota, Connecticut, Indiana, Utah and Wyoming, on the other hand, did worse, making less than 70 percent of men (see figure).

Younger women are now virtually equal to their male counterparts. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 made 91.3 percent of men in 1998.

Women college graduates are rapidly gaining on men. Their earnings have risen 21.7 percent since 1979, while male college graduates have raised their earnings just 7.7 percent.

More women working and improvements in their pay, however, has also led to a higher marriage penalty from the tax code. Marriage penalties apply only to two-earner couples and hit spouse has with similar incomes the hardest. According to the Treasury Department, this year 64 percent of two-earner couples will suffer a marriage penalty. And they will pay $28.3 billion more in federal taxes than if each spouse could file as a single.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 31, 1999.


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