After nearly two decades during which the wage gap between men and women was steadily narrowing, it is now widening again. The numbers are piquing confusion and concern among economists and women’s groups alike.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings of full-time working women are just under 75 percent of the men’s median, down from 77 percent four years ago.
“It’s a puzzlement,” said Francine Blau, a labor economist at Cornell University. “In my head, at this point, it doesn’t mean we’re actually going backward. It’s more a slowdown, a plateau, a consolidation after a period of rapid social change.
The concern is what’s happened to that robust upward trend we had for so many years, and what’s going to happen in the future.”
From 1979 to 1993, women’s median earnings rose from 62 percent of men’s to 77 percent. And in the early 1990s, the narrowing gap was widely trumpeted as evidence of women’s greater opportunities, greater education, and greater work experience - trends that were predicted to continue indefinitely, edging women ever closer to pay equity.
Most experts in the field caution against any conclusion that the earnings numbers are evidence of growing discrimination against women. They say it is more likely that the numbers reflect changes in the makeup of the work force, overall economic trends or statistical flukes than any real reversal of women’s workplace status.