The JK Diagram: American Household Income by Age and Education Level

It’s no secret that a greater education level will result in a more financially profitable career later in life.  However, one variable that if often overlooked is the age of the worker.  I was curious about how these two variables affected the income of American citizens specifically, and found an NPR article about age/income and an Infoplease article about education/income.

Due to limitations of Numbers, I was unable to successfully combine both data sets onto one chart.  Even though the y-axis is identical, the x-axis is dramatically different, which forced me to make two separate graphs.

Let’s start with the Age graph:

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Note that all numbers are in pre-tax dollars.

Age plays a surprising role in the amount of income that a person makes.  For example, an American adult, ages 25-34, regardless of gender or educational background, makes about $25,000-$55,000 USD annually.  To put this into perspective, this time period of their working life corresponds to the proto-star stage of stellar evolution.  During the “main-sequence”, if you will, the average American adult (ages 35-64)  income will remain very constant.  An American spends the vast majority of their working life making around $75,000 USD annually.  As a person nears retirement, likely working part time, they make only about $41,000 USD annually.  This could be considered the red giant stage of someone’s working career, before retiring to a white dwarf and making only residual income from Social Security.

According to NPR, these numbers are not surprising.  Studies over decades have shown that the peak of one’s career comes between ages 40 and 60.  While the numbers are not surprising, these are averages for the nation as a whole.  There are still plenty of people making the same money in their forties as  a 25-year-old on this graph.

Here is the graph involving Educational Level, this time separated by gender.

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Note that all numbers are in pre-tax dollars.  Numbers also prevented every x-axis label from appearing due to clutter.

These numbers should not be surprising to anyone.  The more educated you are, the more likely you are to land yourself a high-skill, high-paying job.  Unlike the first graph that was an average based solely on age, this data takes into consideration educational background like I mentioned, but gender as well.  What surprises me is that women make significantly less than men do with the same degrees.  With a PhD, a women will make only about $85,000 USD annually while a man will make over $100k USD.  This means that women are not being hired for the same jobs even if they have similar qualifications since the same job will pay the same.

I hope this data has enlightened you to the importance of getting an education to secure your future.  Most importantly, ages 40-60 are when you want to maximize your potential for making money.


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