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Weekly earnings in 1986: a look at more than 200 occupations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has updated its series on the weekly earnings of wage and salary workers who usually work full time. This summary presents 1986 usual weekly earnings in 230 occupations and, for many occupations, the female-to-male earnings ratio. It is the only source from which such detailed data are available on an annual basis.

Median earnings vary greatly among occupations. For example, workers in three of the engineering specialties had median weekly earnings of $700 or more in 1986-about twice the overall median of $358. This was also the case for such workers as economists, lawyers, and airplane pilots and navigators. By comparison, private household workers and those employed in "food counter, fountain, and related occupations" had median earnings below $160 a week. These data are shown in table 1, which provides information on wage and salary workers (excluding the incorporated self-employed) who usually work 35 or more hours per week.

Within occupations, there is likely to be a wide range of earnings because each occupation encompasses diverse jobs with differences in educational requirements, skill levels, market demand, and other variables. Also, workers in each specialty may have different duties, responsibilities, workweeks, and job tenure. For example, included under physicians are nearly 100 specific titles, ranging from interns to neurosurgeons.

As was the case in previous years, the 1986 data are limited to occupations in which there are at least 50,000 full-time wage and salary workers. There are not enough observations to compute reliable medians for those occupations with fewer than 50,000 workers. Even for the median earnings shown in table 1, caution must be used in interpreting small differences between groups, particularly when the number of workers in a job category is also relatively small.(1)

Information on weekly earnings of wage and salary workers has been collected since 1967 through the Current Population Survey (CPS). Prior to 1979, these earnings data were collected annually, in May. In 1979, collection was expanded considerably, with the data being gathered monthly from one-fourth of the CPS sample. BLS publishes summary results quarterly and disseminates more detailed information based on annual averages after the end of the year.(2)

Earnings data for detailed occupations were first published for 1981, but unpublished numbers are available back to 1979.(3) However, the 1986 data are fully comparable only to those published for 1985 and to unpublished data for 1983 and 1984. They are not strictly comparable to prior years' data for two reasons. First, in 1983, the classification system developed for the 1980 Census of Population was introduced to the CPS. It is markedly different from the previous system.(4) Second, in 1985, a change in the procedure for computing medians was introduced to reduce both a systematic upward bias in the estimates and the sometimes erratic movements of the medians over time. Both are the result of a tendency of respondents to report rounded numbers.(5) The data for 1983 and 1984 have been revised using the new procedure and are available from BLS. Because the change in the occupational classification system precludes comparability with pre-1983 data, medians were not revised for the 1979-82 period.

The Bureau of the Census classifies occupations at three levels of detail. The least detailed level consists of only the major occupational groups, for example, the professional specialty occupations. An intermediate level of detail of the professional specialty occupations has such groups as engineers and natural scientists; the most detailed includes such specific job titles as physicians, economists, and chemical engineers.


(1) For information or the merits and limitations of the data, see Technical Description of the Quarterly Data on Weekly Earnings from the Current Population Survey, Bulletin 2113 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1982). For information on other data series on earnings from the Current Population Survey and other BLS Surveys, see BLS Measures of Compensation, Bulletin 2239 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1986).

(2) The Current Population Survey is a monthly nationwide sample survey of about 60,000 households conducted for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Bureau of the Census. For information on the survey, particularly with regard to earnings data, see Earl F. Mellor, Technical Description of the Quarterly Data on Weekly Earnings from the Current Population Survey, and Earl F. Mellor, "Earnings Statistics from the Current Population Survey," BLS Measures of Compensation.

(3) Data for 1981 appear in "1981 Weekly Earnings of Men and Women Compared in 100 Occupations," U.S. Department of Labor News Release 82-86, Mar. 7, 1982; and in Nancy F. Rytina "Earnings of men and women: a look at specific occupations," Monthly Labor Review, April 1982, pp. 25-31. For 1982, 1983, and 1985 data, see the following Monthly Labor Review articles or research summaries by Earl F. Mellor: "Investigating the differences in weekly earnings of women and men," June 1984, pp. 17-28; "Weekly earnings in 1983: a look at more than 200 occupations," January 1985, pp. 54-59; and "Weekly earnings in 1985: a look at more than 200 occupations," September 1986, pp. 28-32. Revised data for 1983 and 1984 are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(4) The system evolved form the Standard Occupational Classification System (SOC) which was adopted in 1977 and revised in 1980. See Standard Occupational Classification Manual (U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards, 1980). The relationship between the 1980 census system and the SOC is shown in Census of Population: 1980, Classified Index of Industries and Occupations, Report PHC80-R4, final ed. (Bureau of the Census, 1983). For more information on differences between the 1970- and 1980-based census classification systems, see Gloria Peterson Green and others "Revisions in the Current Population Survey Beginning in January 1983," Employment and Earnings, February 1983, pp. 7-15.

(5) For information on the effects that differences in the grouping of the data have on medians, see Sandra A. West, "Standard Measures of Central Tendency for Censored Earnings Data from the Current Population Survey," a BLS statistical note, available from the Office of Research and Evaluation, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Author:Mellor, Earl F.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Jun 1, 1987
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