In 1970, about half of all U.S. women between the ages of 25 and 64 worked for pay outside the home; on average, they took home about 57 cents for every dollar men earned. Twenty-five years later, those figures had changed dramatically: Almost three-quarters of women were in the paid work force, and they earned about 72 cents per dollar earned by men. As important, women gained access to a much wider range of jobs. The standard index of gender-based occupational segregation declined from about 70 percent in 1970 to 52 percent in 1990. These and related developments are even stronger among younger age groups, which suggests continued improvements.
Such changes, concludes Cornell University economist Francine D. Blau in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, means "women have made substantial progress towards gender equality over the past 25 years." In "Trends in the Well-Being of American Women, 1970-1995," Blau notes that positive developments are not simply economic in nature. Differences in education rates have dropped sharply, domestic violence against women has stayed flat or decreased (depending on the measure), and there has even been "a small but notable reallocation of housework between husbands and wives."
These developments are broad-based; Blau notes that "relative gains appear to have been widely distributed across education groups." But she also notes that, like the "declining labor market position of lower skilled men, there has been a similar deterioration in the economic status of less educated women, especially high school dropouts."