Thanks to the backlash against feminism, the 1980s were even worse for women in the workplace than for men—or so the story goes. But often-ignored statistics tell a different tale.
More and more women have found work in recent years: Although just half of women between the ages of 25 and 44 were working in 1970, that figure jumped to 70 percent by the mid-'80s and will reach about 80 percent by 1995, reports Roger Selbert in his newsletter FutureScan. Accompanying the increase in working women are increases in wages, advancement, and training and education.
The biggest reason for the continued misunderstanding about women's economic status, Seibert says, is that women's median pay as a percentage of men's (which rose from 60 percent in 1980 to 72 percent in 1990) is depressed by including all women of all ages in all jobs. "Women under 20 already earn 92 percent as much as their male counterparts; those 21 to 24, 85 percent; and those 25 to 34, 78 percent," he writes, adding that "the wages of women who have never left the work force for any reason, including childbirth, approach 100 percent of their male counterparts."
Today more women are successfully climbing the corporate ladder. Last year the number of corporate boards appointing women reached a high of 60 percent, according to a survey by Korn/Ferry International, a recruiting firm. Feminists might argue such advances aren't good enough, but Seibert points out that "even for men it takes, on average, 25 years to reach the rank of president and 30 years to make chairman. Women have been managers in significant numbers only since the mid-1970s." He notes that today about 30 percent of working women are professionals or managers, comparable to the figure for men.
And in Our Wildest Dreams, a new book on women entrepreneurs, Joline Godfrey reports that the number of women-owned businesses increased sixfold between 1972 and 1987. They now employ as many people as the Fortune 500.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Women’s Work".