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Why Do Married Men Earn More?

Paul D. Van Hoy II | age fotostock | Getty Images

"Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?"

That was the title of a 2007 Cornell University study published in the American Journal of Sociology that examined gaps in wages between different types of workers. It found that mothers receive the lowest wage of any group, including childless women and males with or without children.

The goal of the study was to highlight income disparities among women but what it also found was that married men are the highest-paid employees, far outpacing women and unmarried men.

U.S. Census Bureau data bear this out. Full-time median income for married men ages 18-64 years old in 2011 was $55,958, as compared to $40,489 for married women, $34,634 for single men and $32,593 for single women, according to the Current Population Survey 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

This disparity is explained, in part, by the gender wage gap. Women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men, regardless of marital status, Census Bureau stats show. But other factors may be in play.

"Part of it is likely due to unconscious biases," Sarah Jane Glynn, a policy analyst for the Center for American Progress, said in an email. "We live in a culture that continues to buy into this notion that men should be the breadwinners, in spite of the fact that nearly two-thirds of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families."

Glynn also believes that, for men, the correlation between marital status and salary may be getting interpreted in reverse. In other words, it may not be that married men are being rewarded with higher incomes; it may be that men are putting off marriage until they start earning more money.

"There is reason to believe that men who already have higher incomes are more likely to get married in the first place," she said. "Economics play a huge role in couples' decisions whether to marry or not, and men who are earning less may postpone marriage until they are bringing home a bigger paycheck."

Glynn also speculated that married men may draw larger salaries because some single men simply don't become desirable marriage material until they become big earners. "Women may choose not to marry men who aren't making much money," Glynn said. If this is the case, then men looking to tie the knot have a good reason to pursue a high salary.

While the gender wage gap remains wide, it's narrowed considerably since the 1980s, and it's conceivable that it could continue to do so until it ultimately disappears. Until that time, people should expect to see married men continue to receive higher pay than their female counterparts.

What's more, men are also more likely to be found in management positions — and they even have the highest incidence of supervisors willing to look the other way when they are late to work, according to the Cornell survey.

Though, it's hard to justify that big paycheck if you're always late!

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