And Women Used To Be Such A Good Bargain!

The gap between men’s and women’s earnings continues (slowly) to shrink. A report issued last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics documents the trend. Among full-time wage and salary workers, women’s median earnings last year were 80 percent of men’s. That’s up from 63 percent in 1979, the earliest year for which comparable data was collected. It’s also a sign of progress that the disparity is smaller for younger workers: Among Americans age 16-24, women who work full-time make 93 percent as much as men; in the 25-34 age bracket, women make 87 percent as much as men. The gap is biggest for women age 65-plus (71 percent), who came of age in the bad old days when women’s occupational and educational opportunities were limited. Nowadays, the increasingly female skew in college attendance promises to accelerate women’s gains in earnings vis-à-vis their male contemporaries. Still, marital status—often a telltale indicator of that notorious career-killer, motherhood—brings a gap of its own, as detailed in the chart. (Among widows, who tend to be older than women in general, the relatively large shortfall in earnings likely reflects age as well as marital status.) Among wage and salary employees who work part-time, women actually make more money than men. In that category (which comprised 25 percent of female workers and 11 percent of male workers), women’s median earnings were 109 percent of men’s. One key reason for women’s advantage in the part-time standings is that men who work part-time are found disproportionately in the youngest—and, hence, the least well-paid—age cohorts.