New Study Examines the Huge Gender Income Gap in the Nation’s Wealthiest Households

A new study led by Jill Yavorsky, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has found that men hold nearly all primary breadwinning positions in top income households and the glass ceiling that has hindered women’s advancement in the workplace is more extensive than previously thought.

“Our results indicate that men control the majority of income resources in households in the top one percent of U.S. income distributions,” said Dr. Yavorsky, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the lead author of the study. “This matters because members in the one percent possess a great deal of political, economic and social power and influence in our society. If men are primarily the ones who control these resources, it is likely that men, not women, exercise the majority of power and influence that comes with being in these households.”

For the study, the researchers examined the Survey of Consumer Finances from 1995 to 2016 to analyze gender income patterns in the top one percent of household incomes in the United States. The top one percent consists of households who made at least $845,000 in total income in 2016 dollars. These households account for nearly one-fourth of all U.S. income.

After analyzing this data, the researchers found that women’s income alone is sufficient for one percent status in only 5 percent of all elite households. Moreover, women’s income is necessary in pushing a household over the one percent threshold in only 15 percent of all one percent households. In other words, women’s income is largely inconsequential in most of these households for obtaining one percent status.

“It is widely documented that most U.S. income gains since the late 1970s have gone to the top one percent of households,” the researchers indicated in their article. “However, if women’s income is trivial in the vast majority of these households, as our results show, rising inequality is largely due to a small group of men’s income disproportionately rising compared with all others.”

Previous studies have found that self-employment and higher education are two factors that lead to higher chances of earning exceptionally high income. However, the researchers believe that this gender gap is due to institutional barriers that women face in today’s society. Women are less likely to be employed in very high paying male-dominated fields such as elite finance and real estate positions. Additionally, women face more entry barriers to self-employment than men do including difficulties securing bank loans and venture capital.

Dr. Yavorsky has been an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte since 2017. She holds a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. all from Ohio State University.

The full study, “Women in the One Percent: Gender Dynamics in Top Income Positions,” was published in the American Sociological Review. It may be accessed here.

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