Gender Inequality: Why is the wage gap closing?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Gender Inequality
College graduates at Pittsburgh University Commencement

A photo of a graduating class at the University of Pittsburgh shows the gender mix of students. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons.

Equal opportunity is a core American value, but it has proved difficult to live up to. Gender inequality in the workplace, for example, has been the norm for decades. Historically, men have been paid more than women, even when working in the same jobs.

There is new evidence that this is changing.

“Today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men,” say analysts at the Pew Research Center, based on their compilation of government labor data. In their just-released report, they show that Millennial women (ages 18 to 34) in America are now paid about 93% of what their male age peers are paid. In 1980, American women who were then 18 to 34 were paid about 67% of the wages of their male peers. The gap has been closing ever since, and is close to equality. (These percentages are based on comparisons of median hourly wages.)

Why is the wage gap closing?

It’s not simply because women have been catching up. True, the trend for wages paid to women is upward. The median hourly wages for women has increased by 25% since 1980. But the trend for men is downward. Overall, wages for men of all ages have declined by 4% since 1980. The downward trend is even steeper for young men. Wages have dropped by 20% since 1980 for men in the 18 to 34 age group.

Rising levels of education for young women is the main explanation. About 45% of Millennial women are enrolled in college, compared to 38% of Millennial men. About 38% of Millennial women hold Bachelor’s degrees, compared to 34% of men of the same ages.

What does this portend? Will near-parity last as Millennials age? Probably not, if the experiences of recent cohorts of men and women are repeated. As women of recent cohorts aged and assumed more responsibilities for family and parenting, they tended to fall behind their male age peers.

Are you surprised to learn about that the gender gap in wages is closing?

Do you think that wage parity can be maintained?

Are you concerned about the rising numbers of young men who are falling behind?

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