It may be time to declare victory on the wage gap. A modest, reversible victory.
Median earnings for women age 25 to 34 were 93 percent of men's as of 2012, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. That figure, gleaned from Census Bureau data, is higher than the 84 percent wage gap among all workers 16 and older. That's a significant improvement from recent decades; as recently as 1980, the wage gap for both younger women and women as a whole was below 70 percent.
The broader 84 percent wage gap figure Pew reports is higher than other common measures of the wage gap because of the way Pew computed the ratio. According to Pew's FactTank blog, the center used hourly wage figures to compensate for the fact that women are more likely than men to work part-time. When weekly figures are used, women earn 81 percent of what men earn. And when the wage gap is calculated using annual pay for full-time workers, the result is the 77 percent figure that pay equity advocates often tout.
Despite the gains women have seen over time, the evidence shows that time will likely take its toll on those women's earnings, widening the wage gap as they become actively involved with the trappings of marriage and family life.
"[T]here is no guarantee that today's young women will sustain their near parity with men in earnings in the years to come," says the report. "Recent cohorts of young women have fallen further behind their same-aged male counterparts as they have aged and dealt with the responsibilities of parenthood and family."
Indeed, the report acknowledges that the narrowing wage gap among younger women may be in part due to the fact that women are putting off marriage and childbearing. In 2012, almost half of women 25 to 34 had no children, while in 1980 only 31 percent were childless.
Though younger workers aren't having as many kids as they used to, millennial women and men have almost identical outlooks on how children and careers mix. Fully 63 percent of millennial women and 62 percent of millennial men say having children will make their careers harder.
But for the broader population of workers, there are clear gender differences in how family affects life at work. Women are significantly more likely than men to say they have cut back at work to deal with family. More than one-third of women (34 percent) said they reduced work hours to care for children or family members, compared to 23 percent of men, and similar shares of both sexes said they had "taken a significant amount of time off." Women were also more than twice as likely to quit a job for family reasons, with 22 percent of women saying they had done so, compared to 9 percent of men.
It's important to note, however, that staying home from work doesn't necessarily mean less work. According to a U.S. News analysis of American Time Use Survey data, women do three times more housework than men, more than twice as much food preparation, and spend nearly twice as much time caring for other household members.
The Pew study also breaks down women's and men's paid and unpaid work alike, using American Time Use Survey data to tally up both hours at the office and at home, doing laundry and caring for children. While men on the whole do an average of 30 hours of paid work per week to women's 21, women do 21 hours of unpaid work to men's 13. That means men and women work nearly identical hours each week, with 42 for women and 43 for men.
While the pay gap has shrunk, so have Americans' perceptions of it, though most people would still say men have the edge. As of 2013, 55 percent of Americans believe that if a man and a woman are doing the same work, the man earns more, while 38 percent say men and women earn the same (only 2 percent say women have the advantage). As of 1982, 70 percent of Americans said men earned more than women for equal work, and only 24 percent said both sexes earned the same.
Interestingly, while many Americans believe there is unfairness in how women are paid, they tend to not see that unfairness at their own workplaces. While 54 percent of employed Americans told Pew that a man will earn more than a woman doing equal work, only 11 percent said that at their own workplaces women were paid less than men for doing the same jobs. Fully 74 percent of people said that at their own workplaces, men and women doing the same work earned the same amount, while only 39 percent perceived this to be the case in broader society.