Millennial Women Are Closing the Wage Gap, But Is It Sustainable?

PHOTO: Newly redesigned $100 notes lay in stacks at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on May 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.

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Millennial women are closing the gender wage gap.

Usually, when we write about earnings, the statistics are downright depressing for women. But there’s a bit of good news to be found in a new Pew Research Center report on the disparity between what men and women earn.

Among workers between the ages of 25 and 34, women’s hourly earnings are 93 percent those of men. While gender parity isn’t a reality yet, the gap is smaller than ever and a far cry from 1980, when women earned just 67 cents for every dollar men brought in.

And while young women seem to be faring best when it comes to how much they earn compared to their male co-workers, the gap is closing for all women, who now make 84 percent as much as men when it come to hourly wages.

Most young people, men included, also think the United States needs to do more to ensure equal treatment in the workplace.

This is clearly good news, but why is there a gender gap at all and will it persist?

One reason is that women still handle most childcare duties and, according to the report, are still far more likely than men - 59 percent compared to 19 percent - to say that being a working parent makes it harder to advance. More women than men drop out of the workforce, at least temporarily, to raise children, which can make re-entering the workforce and climbing a career ladder difficult. It can also widen the wage gap between men and women in later years. In other words, millennial women earn close to what their male peers earn now, but it could be a different story when they start to have babies.

Women are also less likely to say they want to become a boss or manager than men. That may be because there are few examples of top female managers to look toward for inspiration and guidance. As Pew notes, according to the nonprofit research group Catalyst, women currently hold less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and Fortune 1000 CEO positions.

It’s also worth noting that some of what looks like a gain for women is actually a decline in the earnings of men, especially young men. According to the study, the median hourly wage for young men has actually decreased 20 percent since 1980. Labor force participation for women is also growing while it’s shrinking for men, and young women are more likely than young men to hold a bachelor’s degree.

The takeaway? Women, especially young women, are making laudable progress in narrowing the wage gap. But future barriers to maintaining those advances are evident in issues like child care. Until all jobs - those at work and those at home - are more equitably distributed and there are policies in place - mandatory time off for new dads, say - to encourage such shifts, the wage gap isn’t going to disappear entirely.

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