NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bartlett: Women's Increasing Pay Closes The Wage Gap

June 22, 1998

For many years, "equal pay for equal work" has been the Democrats' best economic issue for working women. Indeed, they talked so much about how women earned just 59 cents for each dollar men earned that many people still think this is the case. In fact, women's share of men's earnings has risen almost continuously for 20 years. In 1996, women working full-time made 74 percent of men's earnings on average, according to the Census Bureau.

The data suggest that this percentage will improve even more. That is because younger women are doing better than those of earlier generations.

  • In 1993, college-educated women between 25 and 34 earned 83 percent of what men earned, compared to 74 percent for women aged 35 to 44 and 65 percent for those between 45 and 64.
  • And in growing numbers of occupations, such as the fast-growing computer field, women have already achieved virtual equality.
  • Indeed, a significant percentage of working married women now earn more than their husbands: in 22.6 percent of couples the wife was the higher-earning spouse in 1996, a sharp increase from 15.9 percent in 1981 (see figure).

The improving economic status of married women undercuts calls for new legislation to enforce equality. And it makes it more likely that working couples will suffer from the marriage penalty, because this problem tends to be most acute where a husband and wife have roughly similar incomes. This suggests that Republicans are right to put marriage penalty relief at the top of their legislative agenda.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, June 22, 1998.


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