We all know about the gender wage gap -- it's old news.
But despite the continuing issues with this disparity in income, which are many, women have made some very impressive strides -- particularly at the very top of the economic ladder. It could mean that a sea change is coming across the board, not just in wages, but in the heady world of politics and power.
The world of the 1%
It's no secret that the top 1% earn a lot more than everyone else.
According to a recent study into gender differences at the top, to make it into that rarefied group in 2012 you had to be making $291,000 per year, compared to the average American wage of $51,000. The top 0.1%? You'd need a salary of a little over a million.
Wage growth has also been kind to our one-percenters. In the past 30 years, their five-year average wage growth rose 63%, compared to just 22% for the rest of us. In other words, their wages are not only really high, they're growing really fast.
Getting to the top -- and staying there
Back in the early 1980s, there were 30 men for every woman in the top 1%. By 2012, that dropped to just five. It's not 50-50, but we're definitely getting there.
About half of the change is due to the fact that more women are rising to the highest ranks. But what's also interesting is that people in the top 1% (both men and women) are also much more likely to stay there.
To put it a different way, being a very high income earner is a much more stable proposition than it used to be. Take a look at the very highest rung on the ladder: in 1981, a woman in the top 0.1% had a 64% chance of dropping back into the 99%, compared to just an 8.1% chance in 2011. For men, the probability fell from 24% to 6.6%.
What does that mean? It means that once you're earning huge amounts of money, you're probably going to keep earning huge amounts of money. And you're probably going to keep enjoying the spoils of the high wage growth of your category.
The politics of power?
There's some evidence that politics has become more polarized because the highest earners are exerting more and more influence in Washington. That means that who they are -- and how long they stay in the 1% -- could be making a difference in your life without you even realizing it.
For example, it's been suggested that women lead differently than men. Perhaps those female executives in the 1% are changing the tone and the management of your company. There are also more representatives from the financial sector in the 1% now, whereas in the early 1980s the category was dominated by people from health services. Will that have ramifications for economic policy? Some would argue that it already has.
In the end, the changing demographics of power could be affecting us in ways we haven't even realized yet -- and it could end up changing a whole lot more.
With any luck, it'll include the gender wage gap.
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