NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women's Rising Earning Power

May 28, 2002

Many women now earn more than their male counterparts, says Bruce Bartlett. As higher-earning younger women displace lower-earning older women, this trend is likely to continue.

According to the Census Bureau, the ratio of female to male earnings for full-time, year-round workers hit bottom for women in 1973 at 56.6 percent. It continued to rise in following years, although it fell in Clinton's last two years in office from 74.2 percent in 1997 to 72.2 percent in 1999.

Changes in this ratio can be explained by long-term trends. For instance, the labor force participation rate for women shot up from 43.3 percent in 1970 to 51.5 percent in 1980 to 60.1 percent in 2001.

Also, young women today are far more educated than their mothers, are working more hours and are less likely to be married or have children than their counterparts 25 years ago.

  • Thirty percent of women aged 25 to 34 now have four years of college education compared with just 18 percent in 1975.
  • The percentage of such women working full-time rose from 74.3 percent in 1975 to 80.3 percent in 1999, and those working more than 50 hours a week rose from 45.5 percent to 62.9 percent.
  • In 1975, just 11 percent of women aged 25 to 34 had never been married. By 1999, that figure almost tripled to 30 percent.
  • The percentage of women with children in this age bracket fell from 76 percent to 60 percent over the same period.

As the proportion of women in higher earning occupations has increased, their earnings relative to men rose from 67 percent in 1979 to 82 percent in 2000 for young women (See Figure).

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 27, 2002.


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