3. Choose your field carefully. Career blogger Penelope Trunk, who worked with PayScale.com to generate these findings and wrote about them on her blog, urges women to consider choosing male-dominated fields that continue to experience high salary growth well into middle age. Engineers, doctors, and lawyers, for example, continue to become more valuable—and more highly paid—as they get older. She also suggests specializing within your field, which can lead to higher income as well.
4. Negotiate your salary. According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of the book Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, many people—especially women—miss out on higher starting salaries, store savings, and other benefits because they fail to make simple requests. In fact, Babcock and Laschever calculate that by not negotiating a first salary offer, a worker can lose over half a million dollars by the time he or she retires. Even if the salary is set in stone, asking for a better deal on benefits, flexible work hours, or vacation can result in a more appealing employment package.
5. Boost your pay with a side income. Some 6.9 million Americans, or 4.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, hold multiple jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "It might be a business, part-time contract work, or something else with lots of flexibility," says career coach Ford R. Myers of the ideal second job. In other words, generating multiple streams of income need not mean finishing up a 9-to-5 job then running over to a second job delivering pizzas at night. A recent survey by Elance, a website that connects freelancers with work, found that about 3 in 10 respondents hold down a full-time job while freelancing on the side.
6. Be an entrepreneur. When you work for yourself, you can give yourself raises. Tara Gentile was working in what she calls a "dead-end retail job" at Borders, earning $28,000 a year as a store manager, when she decided she'd be better off launching her own business as an entrepreneur coach. Within a year and a half, Gentile, 28, was bringing in about $150,000.
Gentile is part of a new wave of people opting to work themselves, driven by both economic necessity as well as a desire to take more control of their income. "The declining economy forces people to think more creatively about how they earn money, and in general, people are questioning the idea of job security more than ever before," says Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity. Entrepreneurial activity is at a 15-year high, according to the nonprofit Kauffman Foundation, with growth strongest among 35- to 44-year-olds.
With a little ingenuity, workers can break out of the earnings ceiling and continue boosting their income as they get older.