NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

MARRIED WOMEN WORK LESS, EARN LESS THAN MEN

June 10, 2004

With the rise of the two-worker family over the last several decades, women's wages have risen substantially. Forty years ago, the Census Bureau reports, women made, on average, 59 percent of what men made. Now they make 77 percent.

But new research by two economists, Stephen J. Rose (ORC Marco) and Heidi Hartmann (Institute for Women's Policy Research), shows that such measures substantially overstate what women earn over time.

The researchers decided to study actual earnings histories of men and women over 15 years. They compared the earnings of men and women from 1983 to 1998 in the prime work years between ages 26 and 59. What they found was nothing like a closing of the pay gap to 77 percent:

  • Over that period, women on average earned only 38 percent of what men did.
  • The researchers found that the average woman earned $273,592 over 15 years, compared with $722,693 for men (in 1999 dollars).

Fewer work hours account for much of the difference:

  • Fewer than half of women earned income in all 15 years but 85 percent of men did.
  • About 30 percent of women did not work at all for four or more years .
  • By contrast, only one man in 27 was out of work so much.

Thus, a snapshot of the median income of two-worker families in any given year exaggerates the financial advantage to the family of the working spouse. Some combination of social mores, necessity and, arguably, parental instinct drives spouses, typically wives, to stay home and tend to the family. Married women with children usually work less than unmarried women, say the researchers.

Source: Jeff Madrick, "Still a Gender Wage Gap," New York Times, June 10, 2004; and Stephen J. Rose and Heidi Hartmann, "Still A Man's Labor Market: The Long Term Earnings Gap," Institute for Women's Policy Research, June 4, 2004.

 

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