average, but they still make less than their fathers did at similar
stages in their careers, according to a new study. The father-daughter
wage gap was biggest among the wealthiest workers.
few decades, increasing levels of labor participation, education, and
share of earnings. But an income gap lingers, and not just between
women and their male peers.
Working women today earn more than their mothers did, on average, but
they still make less than their fathers did at similar stages in their
lives, according to a study released Tuesday by Pew Charitable Trusts
tracking female economic mobility across generations. The study
compares women who entered their “prime working years” (approximately
40 years old) in the 1970s with their daughters, who reached 40 in the
early 2000s, by measuring participation rates, hours worked, and wages
Unsurprisingly, the “daughters” in the study worked more hours and had
higher wages than the “mothers” — the latter group worked an average
of 24 hours a week and earned about $10 an hour. The daughters worked
34 hours a week at an average of $19 per hour, which translated to
three times more earnings than their mothers.
The explanation is fairly simple: more women, including mothers, are
working these days. Only 53 percent of the mothers surveyed earned
wages between 1972 and 1986, compared with 85 percent of the
Likewise, 85 percent of the working daughters in the study earned more
than their actual mothers. But less than half earned higher wages than
their fathers during their prime working years.
The gap grows more pronounced with wealth — among the highest earners,
only 21 percent of women earned more than their dads. By comparison,
70 percent of sons had higher hourly wages than fathers, and 63
percent of the highest earnings group made more.
“At every rung of the economic ladder, women’s median wages rose by 50
percent or more, but daughters continue to earn lower hourly wages
than fathers did on the same rung,” the study reads. “Daughters
working full time contribute more than half of family incomes,
strengthening financial security. The extent of this contribution,
however, varies based on family structure: Daughters who are in a
couple (either married or cohabiting) supply 45 percent.”
Given a persistent wage gap (full-time female workers earn about 77
cents for every dollar a man earns) and many of the roadblocks that
still exist for working women and especially mothers, the finding
isn’t a huge shock, said Pamela Stone, a sociologist at Hunter College
in New York.
“Women are underpaid relative to men even in fields like medicine, and
there are differences in labor force participation during peak
childbearing years,” adds Stone, also the author of the book “Opting
out? Why women really quit their careers and head home.”
In the case of working moms, she notes, “I tend to think there’s
discrimination at work, fathers get a wage premium, while employers
are less likely to hire mothers. And reports say that a majority of
mothers are working, but we don’t have adequate childcare. All of this
puts women in a secondary labor market.”
She adds that even high-achieving women have a tendency to make their
husband’s careers a higher priority, not because they want to but
purely for economic reasons. “Men often have better earning potential
to begin with for all the reasons I mentioned, so it becomes a
Still, the Pew study and others note that women have more of a bearing
than ever on a household’s economic mobility. 40 percent of American
mothers, including single moms, are now the primary breadwinners for
their families, up from 11 percent in 1960.
More U.S. women than men now enroll in college, than men, and women’s
job gains outpaced men in 2013. But the biggest gains tend to be at
the lowest income levels: In the Pew study, for example, eight in 10
daughters of the lowest-earning men make higher wages than their
fathers did, and female job gains in 2013 were concentrated among
low-wage sectors like retail and hospitality.
Stone said she’s seen a more spirited push for wage equality in recent
years, but that significant changes are still needed for that to come
to fruition. “We’d have to have a workplace that really takes gender
equity seriously, recognizes that we need to better accommodate
working families and root out gender disparities in pay, provide more
affordable and secure childcare so people feel they can use it.”
“But women want to work, and it’s clear there’s no retreating at this
point,” she adds.
— Christian Science Monitor
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