Why Does Progress on Women’s Wages Seem to Be Stalling?

For decades, women have been—slowly—catching up with men, in terms of how much they earn. But this year, that trajectory seems to have stopped or even reversed. According to an analysis of Americans’ weekly median earnings by The Wall Street Journal, men’s earnings are growing quite a bit faster than women’s this year. In the first three quarters of 2015, the increase in men’s earnings was double that of women’s. Compared with 2014, where the gap was the narrowest on record, this has raised some eyebrows.

What is going on here? Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the Labor Department, says it’s important to look at the longer-term trends rather than just a year. “Men’s wages have been stagnant or falling since the 1970s,” said Shierholz. “Women’s wages, on the other hand, made substantial improvements from the 1970s up until the early 2000s.”

The gains in women’s wages in that 30-year period can be attributed to greater educational attainment, increasing female employment, and more women staying in the workforce after having children—which together led to higher wages and occupational upgrading (which means women upgraded to higher paying jobs that require more skill). But in the early 2000s, this dynamic shifted and women’s wage growth slowed. Though Shierholz believes it’s still a generally upward trend, the pace of improvement over the last decade has been much slower than during previous periods.

Median Weekly Earnings for Men and Women in the U.S.

Labor Department

“Since the early 2000s women’s wages have been basically flat,” explains Shierholz. So while rising wages for women are still expected in the long term, evaluating shorter periods of wage data will sometimes see a flatline or even an erosion of progress—and 2015 looks to be turning out to be one of those periods.

Marianne Bertrand, an economist and professor at the University of Chicago, echoed Shierholz’s assessment. “What we do know is that there has been a general slowdown of the reduction of the gender gap in terms of labor-force participation since the mid-1990s (mostly due to a plateauing in women’s labor-force participation). That is the only fact I feel is well established,” Bertrand said in an email.

Women’s labor-participation rate hit a high of 60.4 percent in 2000, the number stayed in that range until 2009 but it’s been falling since. Last month’s job report put the rate at 56.5 percent. After making enormous progress over six decades, the U.S. has now fallen behind European countries in female employment rates.

For progress to stall now would be troubling; despite the gains of recent decades, there is still a long way to go. “There is a gender wage gap across the board, in every part of the wage distribution men make more than women, but the difference rises the farther up the distribution you go,” said Shierholz. A recent report from PayScale, which looked at a poll of 1.4 million full-time workers, came to a similar conclusion: Women are paid less than men in all industries, and the gaps widen higher up the hierarchy.

The solutions proposed for closing the wage gap include allowing for flexible work hours, raising the minimum wage, banning salary negotiations, and requiring companies to publicly report their wage gaps. For Shierholz, some solutions include raising the minimum wage, since women tend to hold the jobs that would be affected, and making up the ground loss in labor-force participation by ramping up paid family-leave options (although there is evidence that at the extreme, this can backfire—one OECD report found that countries that offered the most liberal paid-leave policies had some of the widest gender wage gaps).

As these are longterm trends, it might be years until it’s possible to really see whether this year’s lack of progress in closing the gender-pay gap is a plateau in an upward trend or a dropping off. Researchers remain optimistic that things are looking up. “I would not put too much weight on one year of data,” said Bertrand.

Gay, and Saving Herself for Marriage

When Julie Kerr was about 12 or 13, she decided that, like many other Christians, she would try to wait until she was married to have sex. That part wasn’t especially surprising. She grew up in a small town in Virginia with a Baptist minister for a father.

It was also around that time that she discovered something about herself that was less conventional in her circle: She liked women.

To her, the two are not incompatible. She never took a formal purity pledge, but, “it’s mainly through [my faith] that I felt a calling to wait until marriage, or waiting until I meet the love of my life. For me, the love of my life is definitely going to be a woman.”

Demographically, Kerr is unusual in at least two respects. A prominent 2006 study found that 95 percent of Americans did not wait for marriage to have sex. “Premarital sex is nearly universal among Americans,” that study’s title proclaimed decisively, “and has been for decades.” And gay people are much less likely to identify as Christian than straight people are, which means there are precious few gay “waiters,” as they are sometimes called. (“I know of like two, three, four, … five?” Kerr said, trailing off.)

Still, their ranks may grow. As religious institutions become more accepting of homosexuality, Kerr might find more (though perhaps not many more) kindred spirits. The 48 percent of LGBT Americans who identified as Christian in 2014 is up slightly from the 42 percent who did so in 2013—even as religious affiliation declined among all Americans in the same timeframe.

Mark A. Yarhouse, a professor of psychology at Regent University, suggested that now that the question of whether gay Americans should be allowed to marry has been settled by the Supreme Court, “there is more room for a discussion of sexual ethics aside from the very basic question of whether same-sex sexual behavior is morally permissible.”

Gay couples are now presented with the same relational options straight couples are—including the option to wait until their wedding night.

Like Kerr, Matthew Vines, an author and activist who promotes the inclusion of gay people within Christianity, grew up in a church where waiting until marriage was the norm. He saw no reason to change his plan simply because he came to terms with being gay.

He said via email that though abstinence until marriage is still rare within the gay community, “as more LGBT people from Evangelical backgrounds come out and receive at least some support from their churches and families, I think waiting until marriage will become relatively more common.”

Julie Kerr

Kerr, now 33, works as a barista and as a caregiver for the elderly in Oakland, California. She said the longer she waited, the more she wanted her first time to have meaning.

I asked her something I thought Christians and atheists alike might wonder: Why she accepted the Bible’s prohibition on premarital sex, but not what many Christians believe to be its ban on homosexuality. (Some gay Christians reconcile this quandary by remaining celibate.)

Kerr doesn’t believe homosexuality is a sin, however, or that God or Jesus is homophobic. “A lot of times Christianity can be unkind to gay people,” she said. “It’s too bad that a lot of Christians are judgmental. They’re missing the point.”

Similarly, Vines interprets the Bible as frowning upon fleeting same-sex relationships, not lasting ones. “Many LGBT Christians see same-sex marriages as consistent with the Bible’s ideals of covenantal love,” he said, “but those ideals also carry with them boundaries around appropriate sexual behavior.”

Kerr has found support through sites and Facebook groups where fellow “waiters” gather. But not everyone on those forums accepts her lifestyle. It’s less homophobia, she said, and more “a cold freeze-out. Like they don’t know how to talk to a gay person.”

She also faces occasional skepticism from the LGBT community. In less progressive times, straight people would sometimes ask newly out gay people how they “know” they’re not straight. Similarly, some lesbians ask Kerr how she knows she’s gay, since she’s never had sex with a woman. “If I say I’m gay, I’m associating myself with sexuality, but I’m not exercising it,” she said. “In the Bay Area … some people are like, ‘that’s sweet and that’s awesome,’ but some people are like, ‘what the fuck?’”

There have been times Kerr has considered giving it all up and running out for a late-night booty call. “You can feel your body wanting sex,” she said. But instead, she prays. She exercises. She watches Charlie’s Angels, which “gets that out of your system.”

Kerr has starred in the TLC reality show The Virgin Diaries and is putting the finishing touches on a movie she made, Geek Loves Punk, about a religious, geeky, virgin who falls for a promiscuous agnostic.

The plot is somewhat true to life. She’s never sure when to tell romantic prospects about her decision. The first date is too soon. Wait too long, though, and you risk emotionally attaching to someone for whom mere kissing and cuddling does not a relationship make.

Kerr usually waits till date three or four. Some women bolt—and Kerr understands. She knows eventually, it “will be worth the wait, because it will be someone I’m in love with.”

For now, she’s still “happily single,” she said. “It’s all about God’s timing.”

Why Bros Love Energy Drinks

Hey brah, what’s your favorite energy drink? Red Bull? Monster? Rock Star? Male Gaze? Do you embrace your guy friends while maintaining an arm-wrestle-like hand-clasp between your bodies? Do you enjoy infusing your body with guarana before doing some reps and contemplating the precariousness of manhood?

If so, you might be one of the gentlebros described in a totally epic recent study by researchers at the University of Akron and Texas Tech University. It found that men who subscribed most to stereotypically masculine beliefs were also more likely to believe that energy drinks work wonders, which, in turn, leads to drinking more of the robot-pee-flavored beverages.

The researchers were interested in this connection because the rise of energy drinks has brought an attendant increase in emergency-room visits due to caffeine toxicity. Furthermore, they write, “ads for energy drinks typically feature young white men engaged in extreme sports, and portrayed as attractive to and attracted by women.” Rather than simply walk around campus sniffing for Axe body spray, the authors of the study, published in Health Psychology, recruited 467 men from Craigslist and psychology classes and gave them a series of surveys.

First, they asked them how much they agreed with statements like, “Men should not be too quick to tell others that they care about them,” “A man should prefer watching action movies to reading romantic novels,” “A man should always be ready for sex,” and “A man should always be the boss.” (Alas, they did not ask them, “Do you even lift?”)

Then, they asked them how much they think energy drinks would generate positive outcomes that affirm their masculinity, using statements such as, “If I consume energy drinks, I will be more willing to take risks” or “If I consume energy drinks, I will perform better.” They also asked the participants how often they drank energy drinks and whether they have trouble sleeping.

They found that the man’s man—you know, the one who “rallies,” adores fantasy football, and prioritizes the needs of his homosocial companions above that of hos—is more likely to believe that Red Bull gives you wings. In other words, those who adhered most to masculine beliefs had significantly higher energy-drink outcome expectations.

Put yet another way, the study affirmed the Powerthirst theory of energy beverages:

The association between masculinity and energy drinks hinged on demographics. For the younger men in the study, masculinity ideology was significantly correlated with energy drink outcome expectations, but that wasn’t the case for men who were older than about 32. And for the white men, but not men of color, higher energy drink outcome expectations were associated with greater energy-drink consumption.

The authors hypothesize that the path works something like this: Adherence to masculinity ideology influences energy-drink expectations, which in turn influence energy-drink consumption, which can cause sleep disturbances.

“Masculinity affects energy-drink use indirectly by affecting young men’s expectations of what energy drinks will do for them,” said the University of Akron psychology professor and study co-author Ronald Levant. “These young men believe that is the way men should be, want to be that, and believe that energy drinks will make them be that way.”

Gender is widely understood to be a construct, which can be way harsh. Thus, the authors write, “The link between masculinity ideology and energy drink use suggests that energy drink use may be a means of performing masculinity (i.e., demonstrating that one is consuming products that are associated with the engagement in extreme sports or an otherwise active and competitive lifestyle).” Previous studies have similarly found that men whose masculinity was threatened consumed more energy drinks in a taste test.

Lest my homies feel gender-policed, know that Levant is only looking out for the health of his dawgs. A small recent study found that even one 16-ounce energy drink can boost blood pressure and stress-hormone responses in young, healthy adults.

“These kids don’t know what they’re drinking,” Levant said. “There should be some requirement that the caffeine content be included on the label. Caffeine in higher doses can be a diuretic, and that can be a problem if you’re participating in a sport.”


Props to my boyz, Buzzfeed and Thought Catalog, for some of the bro terminology. ‘Preesh.

Women Are Beating Men at Retirement Savings

In the U.S., the average woman is expected to live five years longer than the average man—a fact that leads to the financial advice that women should probably save more for retirement.

A new white paper from Vanguard finds that not only are women overall 14 percent more likely than men to participate in workplace-savings plans, women are crushing men in participation rate at every income level. For women earning less than $100,000, the participation rate is 20 percent higher than that of men.

401(k) Participation Rate by Income and Gender

But it’s not all good news for women in the retirement-savings gender gap: While women participate in retirement-saving plans at a higher rate, men still have way more retirement savings due to higher wages. In Vanguard’s study, men have average and median account balances that are 50 percent higher than that of women’s. When Vanguard controlled for the gender pay gap by comparing account balances of the same incomes levels, the numbers converged—but not at the highest income levels where they attribute the difference to men having been at those high wages for much longer than women.

Data from Fidelity’s 13.6 million participants tell a similar story: While men have an average 401(k) account balance of $98,700, women lag at $67,400. In Fidelity’s data, women also are behind in how much they are saving per year and the average percent of their salaries they are contributing. The Fidelity data has a bright spot though: Women earning less than $150,000 have more saved in their retirement accounts than men, perhaps an inverse of Vanguard’s higher-end disparity—this bottom bracket includes women who have been there for a long time.

So while women are better retirement savers than men, they’re not saving more on the whole due to wage disparities. And with women living longer, this means less to live on until the gender pay gap closes.

Cashing In on Breaking Up: An eBay for the Brokenhearted

A bad breakup can turn treasures into trash. But now before the brokenhearted dump mementos and their ex’s stuff on the sidewalk, they can consider getting paid for it. Like an eBay for broken relationships, Never Liked It Anyway is an online marketplace for the jilted, the forsaken, and the lovelorn.

Items currently for sale include designer wedding dresses, lots and lots of jewelry, and a DVD collection. (The DVDs’ seller captions the listing: “I don’t even wanna look at them, let alone watch them.”)

Never Liked It Anyway was founded by Bella Acton, a marketing consultant whose business breakthrough came after her own breakup left her with two unwanted plane tickets. “If you look at it, there’s $2 billion in the dating space and zero dollars in the break-up space,” Acton explains to Quartz.


But more than reselling emotionally-laden goods, Acton sees a greater mission to her business. A section on the website offers a place where the brokenhearted can recount their stories and unload some emotional baggage too. “We started Never Liked It Anyway to make moving on easier. It’s a place to shed the stories and the stuff,” says Acton.

Acton’s site features a deep well of articles and allied “break-up services.” Its advice section is packaged in a Bounce Back Stack card deck.

With aesthetics apparently borrowed from women’s fashion magazines, Never Liked It Anyway’s content is focused on women’s issues for the time being, though Acton points out that there’s currently one male seller who has listed a luxurious mink shawl.

With the opening of Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia, Leanne Shapton’s inventive love novella in the form of an auction catalogue, and Acton’s thriving enterprise, there seem to be promising opportunities in the underserved “break-up space.” Naturally, Acton is also working on a book and a TV show.