Most American men see earnings stabilize after age 35, but that’s not the case for the top 2%, says economist

  • The highest-earning men in the U.S. experience an “astonishing increase in earnings” between the ages of 35 and 45.
  • This is according to an analysis conducted by economist Serdar Ozkan and published on Monday.
  • The top 2% earn on average about $400,000 a year over their entire working life, while the median earner earns $50,000 a year for one job.

An analysis by economist Serdar Ozkan released Monday found that top-earning American men aged 35 to 45 are experiencing “astonishing earnings growth” while other men are seeing their income stagnate.

American men in the top 2% of earners saw their earnings increase by 150% between the ages of 35 and 45, wrote Ozkan, an economic policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

On the other hand, the median and lowest 2% of male earners saw only a 15% increase between ages 35 and 45.

Most workers see most of their wage growth in the first decade of their careers, and after age 35, wages increase minimally or plateau, Ozkan wrote.

“On the other hand, for high-income people, income continues to grow, although at a decreasing rate, and continues until the age of 55,” he added.

Ozkan’s analysis relies on men’s wage data from Internal Revenue Service tax forms filed from 1978 to 2013 and tracks changes in their wages from ages 25 to 55. The study focuses on men because of the difficulty in obtaining uninterrupted earnings records for women. according to the author.

The difference in wage growth is more pronounced at the beginning of life. Between the ages of 25 and 35, top earners see their earnings increase by 435% compared to a 65% increase for average earners. People with the lowest incomes only see a 16% increase over this period.

Overall, this means that the study’s lowest-income earners earn an average annual income of $15,000 in 2005 dollars over their working lives.

For comparison, the median earns an average of $50,000 a year throughout their working lives, while the top 2% earn around $400,000 a year over the same period.

The Washington-based Economic Policy Institute’s previous study on wage inequality, released in 2022, found that the top 10% of earners, including both men and women, are the only group whose income share has increased since 1979.

However, according to an article published in March by the National Bureau of Economic Research, during the pandemic, people with the lowest incomes saw higher percentage increases in wages than people with the highest incomes in the period from January 2020 to September 2022. However, according to the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, these increases were short-lived.

Ozkan did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, sent outside normal business hours.

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