Living Economics

Glamour vs Hardship
Most glamorous jobs have high average income but low median income while most bread-and-butter jobs have median income that is very close to the average income.

Of the jobs considered to be glamorous by 800 Internet users in a recent salary.com survey, none of them commanded a median salary of more than $50,000. Sure enough, a few lucky persons at the top of these glamorous jobs do make a lot of money. For example, Angelina Jolie, actress, made $30 million and Jon Stewart, news anchor, made $1.5 million in 2005. But the median wages of actors was only $25,000 (Parade) and the median wages of a television news anchor was only $59,000 (stateofthenewsmedia.org)

The glamour factor of a job can be gauged by the gap between the average salary and the median salary. The huge salary earned by the few stars at the top tends to pull up the average wages. But since very few of them make such a high income, the median salary has to be much lower than the average salary before we could find enough higher earners to account for 50% of the workers in that job category. The glamour factor that can pay the top stars a lot of money also depresses the salary of most workers in the profession because of excess entry at the bottom. This salary gap can be called a glamour discount (NPR).

On the other hand, some jobs may be so dangerous and unpleasant that higher pay is needed to attract workers. For example, underground coal miners and truck drivers in Iraq are usually well paid because they are literally putting their lives on the line. Such hardship pay premium is called compensating differential.

By the same token, the average salary of bread-and-butter desk jobs is almost identical to the median salary since the income is normally distributed.

There are exceptions to the above observations. Unpleasant jobs that require little skills and are non-life-threatening may not pay well such as farm workers because the demand for vegetables and fruits is relatively price elastic. So only illegal immigrants who have very low opportunity cost back home would take them. Some jobs are paid more than others due to political clout. For example, union construction workers get paid 52% higher than non-union workers (laborresearch.org). Powerful unionized West Coast dockworkers earn an average of $116,000 for handling cargo. Office clerks who log shipping records into computers earn $138,000. Foremen who oversee the rank-and-file members take home an average $177,000 (engineeringsalary.com). In such cases, it is not because their jobs are particularly unpleasant. They get paid more because they have choke power over a time-sensitive and critical service.

References:
  • “Some glamour jobs simply don’t pay.” NPR Morning Edition news transcript. 1/20/2006.
  • “What people earn.” Parade. 3/12/2006.
  • “Union v. Non-Union: Median Weekly Earnings in 2004.” [Cited 4/1/2006].
  • Journalism.org. “Radio: the state of the news media.” [Cited 4/1/2006].
  • Most overpaid jobs in the United States.” [Updated 3/29/2006. Cited 4/1/2006].
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