Among Poor Kids, There’s A Reverse Gender Gap In Employment

Boys born into poverty fare poorly in the job market compared to women.

Among Poor Kids, There’s A Reverse Gender Gap In Employment
Escaping poverty is that much harder for boys than girls. Top Photo: Nivek Neslo/Getty Images

We know that kids born to low-income families are likely themselves to be low-income in later life. But new research shows the detrimental effects of poverty aren’t felt uniformly: Young men actually do worse than young women.


Among the poorest kids, the gender gap–which normally disadvantages women–is reversed, according to Stanford University economist Raj Chetty and other researchers. Young men from the bottom income quintile are less likely than girls to work at 30, especially when they’re raised by single parents.

Take a look at the chart that appears in the paper. It plots likelihood to work at age 30 on the left and family income during high school along the bottom. Among upper incomes, men work more than women, which is what you would expect for a range of cultural and discrimination-linked reasons. At the bottom, the lines run the other way round.

The analysis is based on anonymized tax returns from 1996 to 2012, and looks at kids born between 1980 and 1982. Not surprisingly, the data shows lower overall employment levels among low-income groups overall, with about 60% of kids working at 30 from the lowest percentiles and more than 85% working at near the top-end. Strangely, employment tails off at the very top, perhaps because kids from very rich families don’t need to work, or don’t have normal kinds of employment.

The reverse gender gap is more prevalent in some counties than others. For example, girls from New York City and Charlotte have similar levels of employment across the income distribution. But, among boys from lower incomes, the job rate falls hard in Charlotte but not in New York. Boys do worse in areas with high rates of incarceration, where single-parent families are prevalent and crime is common, the research says.

“Low-income boys who grow up in high-poverty, high-minority areas work significantly less than girls. These areas also have higher rates of crime, suggesting that boys growing up in concentrated poverty substitute from formal employment to crime,” says the paper.

We covered some of Chetty’s previous work here. The Washington Post had an excellent write-up of the current research here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.