What Percent of the 1% Is Female?

It’s small and getting even smaller

Dwyer Gunn
GEN
Published in
4 min readOct 8, 2019

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A photo of a woman in a work meeting.
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Inequality rises all the way to the top.

Earlier this year, Gabriel Zucman, a prominent economist at the University of California, Berkeley, came to a grim conclusion about inequality in the United States: The concentration of wealth has “returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.” This trend has not escaped politicians’ attention, and the now-historic levels of income and wealth inequality have emerged as central issues in the Democratic presidential primary. Several candidates have put out ambitious proposals to tax wealth and address the country’s staggering racial wealth gap.

Yet for all the research and all the chatter, relatively scant attention has been paid to the fact that gender income gaps at the top of the income spectrum are dramatic and have also worsened in recent decades, reflecting a general erosion of female power. When it comes to joining the ranks of the 1%, women are falling even further behind.

A 2019 paper by Jill E. Yavorsky, Lisa A. Keister, and Yue Qian published in the American Sociological Review looked at households in the top 1% of the income distribution — that is, a total household income of at least $845,000 (in 2016 dollars) — and attempted to determine which partner’s earnings were driving the household income status. They found that “women’s income is sufficient for one percent status in only 1 in 20 of all elite households.” By contrast, in 85% of top-earning households, the male’s income alone was sufficient to meet the 1% threshold.

The 1% threshold for male earners was slightly more than $370,000; for female earners, it was only $234,910.

The researchers noted that “marrying a man with good income prospects is a woman’s main route to the one percent.” This stood in stark contrast to their findings for men, for whom elite-earner status is largely correlated with an advanced degree or self-employment. More than 7% of married, self-employed men with advanced degrees are in the top 1% of earners; the same is true of only 1.8% of such women.

None of this is particularly shocking. There’s a long-standing and well-documented earnings…

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Dwyer Gunn
GEN
Writer for

Journalist covering economics for @Medium. Words for @nytimes @Slate @NYMag. @Freakonomics alum. Email: dwyer.gunn@gmail.com