Reality Check: Women Not Being Paid Better

Tornado Science, Facts and History

While the wage gap between men and women in the United States has narrowed, that doesn't mean the ladies get fair pay in today's workplace. A new study suggests the narrowing is the result of more capable women entering the workforce.

"Though decades of economic research suggest men and women are equalizing in the labor market, the notion that today’s working women are being paid more and treated better than ever before is simply wrong," said researcher Yona Rubinstein, an economist at Brown University in Rhode Island. "While there may be more women holding high-power positions today, they are still being paid as their counterparts were three decades ago."

In 1979, for instance, working women were bringing home salaries that were just 62 percent that of men's salaries, with men making just under $300 a week. In 2005, the gap narrowed with women's salaries equal to 80 percent of men's. Men in 2005 had a median weekly salary of $722, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The results are published in the August issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Rubinstein and Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago analyzed wage data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistic's Current Population Survey and IQ data (to suggest skill level) taken from the National Longitudinal Survey beginning in the 1970s.

They found that women's wages grew from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, which caused the gender wage gap to begin to narrow.

Rubinstein explained that in the 1970s, the labor market had an increased demand for skilled workers, or brains over brawn. Because most of the skilled men were already in the workforce, the demand increasingly pulled in a pool of smart, skilled, and highly competent women who had previously chosen to stay at home.

As a result, the United States saw an increase in how much the average working woman earned.

This wage spurt for women might not have happened, the researchers say, if the workforce composition had been held constant.

The National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation funded this research.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.