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July 1990, Vol. 113, No. 7
Recent gains in women's earnings: better pay or longer hours?
Michael W. Horrigan and James P. Markey
The dramatic increase in the participation of women in the labor force is probably the most significant U.S. labor market development of the post-World War II era. While research on the labor market behavior of women has addressed a wide spectrum of issues, much attention has focused on women's earnings, particularly in relation to men's. The existence of considerable earnings differences between the sexes is well documented. The evidence, however, suggests that these differences narrowed significantly in the 1980's. In 1979, median annual earnings of women working year round on a full-time basis were 60 percent of their male counterparts'. By 1988, this figure had risen to 65 percent. Female-male earnings ratios based on weekly and hourly earnings point to a similar narrowing of the earnings gap over the same period.
The ratio of female-to-male annual earnings can be affected by numerous factors, including gender differences in hours worked per year, differences in both the distribution of employment across occupations and the human capital characteristics of working women and men, and discrimination in labor market practices. This article examines the first of these three factors. In particular, it assesses the degree to which such differences in the earnings of year-round, full-time wage and salary workers reflect differences in hours worked in any given year.1 It also examines how changes in these earnings differences are the result of changes in the labor supply patterns of women and men.
This excerpt is from an article published in the July 1990 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 For a comprehensive review of the literature on male-female earnings differentials, see Morley Gunderson, "Male-Female Wage Differentials and Policy Responses," Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. XXVII, March 1989, pp.46-72. For a discussion of sex discrimination in the labor market, see Barbara Bergmann, "Does the Market for Women's Labor Need Fixing?" Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1989, pp. 43-60. Also see Mark Sieling, "Staffing patterns prominent in female-male earnings gap, " Monthly Labor Review, June 1984, pp. 29-33.
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