March 8, 2013

Women Make Significant Gains in the Workplace and Educational Attainment, but Lag in Pay

46.7%

Women comprise almost half the workforce (46.7%) and now surpass men in college enrollment and completion. But their earnings still lag men.

Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated on this date, with this year’s theme being “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.”

A Pew Research Center study last year of government data found that over the course of the past four decades, women have been making significant gains in their labor force participation and educational attainment.

In 2010, women made up almost half of the labor force (46.7%). In 1997, women made up 46.2% of the labor force, and back in 1970 women made up only 38.1% of the labor force.

On the education front, women have made substantial strides in recent decades and now surpass men in both college enrollment and completion. Some 44% of women ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college or graduate programs as of October 2010, compared with just 38% of men in the same age group.

In addition, 36% of women ages 25 to 29 had a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 28% of men in the same age group—a record-high divergence. Women first surpassed men in these realms in the early 1990s, and the gap has been growing wider ever since.

In spite of their educational advantage and increased presence in the workplace, women continue to lag behind men in terms of earning power. In 2010, women who were full-time or salaried workers had median weekly earnings of $669, compared with $824 for their male counterparts.

Still, women have made big strides in attaining equal pay. In 1979, when data of this sort began being collected, women earned on average 62% of what men earned. After steadily rising for the past two and a half decades, the growth in the women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio settled around 2004 and has remained in the 80-81% range since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Read more