Cover: Women's Wages and Work in the Twentieth Century

Women's Wages and Work in the Twentieth Century

Published 1984

by James P. Smith, Michael P. Ward


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This report examines reasons the reported wages of women have remained constant at approximately 59 percent of men's wages during the twentieth century, and looks for explanations for the remarkable growth in the proportion of women who work. The authors examined two factors, education and work experience, as determinants of women's wages, and concluded that the constancy of women's relative wages at the 59 percent level is a myth. Instead, they found that: (1) the wages of working women did not increase relative to those of men between 1920 and 1980 because the skill of working women did not increase relative to that of men in the same period; (2) the average wages of the entire population of women have increased much faster than the wages of men during the last 60 years; (3) women's wages relative to men's jumped significantly between 1980 and 1983; and (4) women's economic status will improve significantly relative to men's over the next 20 years. They identified three demographic forces that contributed to the long-term growth in the female labor force: the increasing nuclearization of the American family, the urbanization of its population, and the long-term secular decline in fertility.

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