What matters to you more: earning enough to cover your basic needs and enjoy life, or earning more than your peers? Many people would openly state the former, while secretly favoring the latter. That's not a healthy recipe for contentment.
In fact, comparing yourself to others might be one of the most toxic things you can do: If you never know what your own level of "enough " is, and you're always chasing after the next higher-earning peer, you'll be stuck on the hedonic treadmill until it buries you six feet underground.
So why should we even waste time pointing out what the median American's salary is? Because there are two important trends that we all need to be aware of and plan for. Looking at these figures makes them obvious.
Here are the median salaries of workers in America, broken down by both age and sex, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' third-quarter earnings survey.
The first and most obvious trend is that women still earn less than men -- and that's true across every age group. I'm not going to get into the reasons for why such a gap exists -- that's far beyond the scope of what I wish to cover here. Instead, I want to point out the simple fact that women need to take this into consideration.
It's already been shown, time and again , that women (on average) are better savers and investors than men. They tend to put away a greater percentage of their salaries each month, and they pay less in investing fees than their male counterparts. In fact, in households taking in less than $100,000 per year, the nest eggs of women outstrip -- if ever so slightly -- the nest eggs of men.
Therefore, it's important for women to do two things: one, continue to save as much of their salaries as possible while paying the minimum in terms of fees, and; two, consider taking an aggressive investing approach. I suggest the latter because women tend to live longer than men, and they're less likely to cash out their retirement savings in times of need.
Given those two traits, it may be more beneficial for women to invest a larger portion of their savings in (low-fee) aggressive growth funds or even individual stocks. These investments are usually more volatile, but for investors who have decades-long time horizons and can patiently weather bumpy markets, they can produce outsized returns.
A look at employment trends
The second major factor that readers need to be aware of is the fact that their incomes will likely decline with age. If you look at the table above, you'd be right to say, "Sure, income does fall, but only by a little. Those over 65 are still earning about what those who are in their prime are bringing in."
But this is one of those times when that old Mark Twain quip applies: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." The chart shows the median salary in each age group for those who are earning a wage. Those who aren't -- whether because they are retired by choice, or because they can't find work -- are not included. And if we look at the percentage of wage-earners in each subgroup, it looks like this.
There's a significant drop off between the 45-54 subgroup and the 55-64 subgroup. Then, workforce participation falls off of a cliff for those over the age of 65.
Why does this matter? Because there are millions of Americans who currently aren't saving enough for retirement, but could be. They tell themselves that they'll "save more later" or "work until an older age."
The fact of the matter is there's no guarantee you'll be able to work for as long as you plan to. A loved one could become sick, your kids might need help looking after your grandkids, you might become ill or injured, you might lose the drive to work in your 60s and 70s, or you might just lose your job and not be able to find a new one. As the adage goes: "Man plans and God laughs."
So if you're earning money now, and could reduce your spending to help boost your nest egg -- do so immediately. The longer your money can sit and grow in your investments, the less you'll have to worry down the road about what age you'll be when you retire.