The Mystery of the Median - The Numbers Guy - WSJ

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August 6, 2007, 4:32 PM ET

The Mystery of the Median
ByCarl Bialik

A front-page article on Friday in the New York Times told of a surprising trend: Working young women in New York and several other cities are earning more than men. Women in New York ages 21 to 30 who are full-time workers “made 117% of men’s wages,” the Times reported, citing a report by Queens College demographer Andrew A. Beveridge in the Gotham Gazette that was in turn based on a custom analysis of a 2005 Census Bureau survey. But a chart accompanying the Times article showed a surprising pattern: While the median salary of all New York women in the age group was 17% greater than men’s, the gender gap was smaller for each of four sub-groups highlighted in the chart: Asians, blacks, Hispanics and whites. Asian men and women made the same amount; Hispanic and black women outearned their male counterparts by just 8% and 7%, respectively; and white men made 13% more than white women. That discrepancy reflects the strange statistical properties of the median, which is the middle value of a group of numbers lined up in order. Because the median depends only on the middle value, it isn’t affected by the very smallest and largest values — which can create odd properties such as the one published in the Times chart. “We’ve seen this before,” Edward Welniak, chief of the Census Bureau’s income statistics branch, told me. “It’s something we’ve come to accept, and it’s because of the peculiarities of looking at statistics derived from medians.” By way of illustration, imagine that after a mass exodus, New York was left with just 10 working men and 10 working women between 21 and 30. Six of the men make $100,000 each; the other four make $1 million each — so the median men’s salary is $100,000, while the mean (the sum of the salaries divided by the number of earners) is $460,000. Six of the women make $117,000 each, while the other four each make $30,000 — making the median of women’s salaries $117,000, which is much

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barely one-ninth the men’s.The Mystery of the Median .The Numbers Guy .000. If Prof.) It’s unclear if all New York men between 21 and 30 together earned more than their female counterparts. For all New York City wage-earners.200. again barely one-ninth of his. I’ll update this post.000. Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company. the median men’s salary was 11% greater than the median women’s salary.000. All Rights Reserved This copy is for your personal. so their median is $1 million. For non-personal use or to order multiple copies. looking at the median would suggest that men earn far more than women. Of the six white women.000.djreprints. Footnotes: Prof. was his own based on individual responses to a Census survey. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law.com 2 of 2 25/11/2013 1:43 PM . all at the same time. (Even though.) Now imagine that all of these young working New Yorkers are white.WSJ http://blogs. five earn $100. and the lone Asian woman earns $117. Therefore the median of the women’s salaries is 17% greater than the median of the men’s. non-commercial use only.000 completed surveys in New York City.000 — less than one-third of the men’s. Of the three black men. geographical location and race. The Census’s own. two earn $1 million and one earns $100. including nearly 39.com/numbersguy/the-mystery-of-the-median-163/tab/print/ larger than the mean of $82. So in each subgroup.000. (He didn’t respond to my requests for comment. as a group. two earn $117. black or Asian (and identify themselves as belonging to just one race).000. featured in the Times article. please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit www. The three black women all earn $117. Their median salary is $30. Beveridge’s analysis. But the median for the overall population tells a very different story — just as in the Times chart. Their median salary is $100. the 10 men made much more than the 10 women.000. Six men are white. The lone Asian man earns $1 million.wsj. while one earns $1 million. That’s based on the 2005 American Community Survey.000. making their median salary $117. and the other four earn $30. gender. Beveridge gets back to me. which covered three million housing units nationwide. precalculated statistical tables aren’t so detailed as to examine earnings by age. Inc.

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