American women starting their careers today can expect to be paid almost as much as their male peers, though they fall behind as they have children, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Women between the ages of 25 and 34 were paid 93 percent as much as men in 2012, up from 67 percent in 1980 and the narrowest gap on record, according to the research group.
“Today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men,” according to the report released today.
Sustaining those gains has proven more difficult, with women slipping behind men of the same age as they deal with parenthood and family responsibilities, according to the study by Washington-based Pew. Among all workers 16 and older, women’s hourly wages were 84 percent of those of men in 2012.
Women in what is known as the Millennial Generation are better educated than their male peers, with 38 percent holding bachelor’s degrees compared with 31 percent of men in 2013, Pew said. They’re also more likely to be in the workforce: 74 percent of women between 25 and 34 were in the labor force in 2012, compared with just 70 percent of young men.
Millennial women “have a lot of credentials and opportunities,” said Kim Parker, Pew’s director of social trends research and co-author of the survey. “There’s definitely been some progress on the wage gap, but it’s a gradual process.”
The gender gap in salaries has narrowed since 1980 as median hourly wages for women increased 25 percent and decreased 4 percent for men, according to Pew tabulations of U.S. Census data.
The advancement of women in the workplace was underscored yesterday when General Motors Co. said it was promoting Mary Barra to chief executive officer, making the 51-year-old the first female head of an automotive company.
Barra, formerly GM’s senior vice president of global product development, joins such CEOs as Yahoo Inc.’s Marissa Mayer, Hewlett Packard Co.’s Meg Whitman and International Business Machines Corp.’s Virginia Rometty.
When Barra replaces Dan Akerson at GM next month, 23 Fortune 500 companies will be headed by women, according to the magazine.
Women “have a long way to go” in executive suites, Parker said.
Average wages for women have grown as more enter the workforce with college degrees and other credentials. Last year, 49 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were women, compared with 36 percent in 1980, Pew found.
The progress of the Millennial Generation in closing the wage gap may be slowed by childbirth, the report said. Fifty-one percent of working women with children younger than 18 said their family responsibilities have impeded their career advancement, compared with 16 percent of men, the survey says.
What is more, the wage gap narrowed most quickly between 1980 and 1995, with comparatively slower movement since then, according to the study. Some of the trend may owe to what Pew called job segregation, referring to disproportionate numbers of women in lower-paying professions such as health care. A larger proportion of women also work part-time, the report said.
Thirteen percent of women worked in health-care professions in 2012, compared with 3 percent of men, the study said. Within that field, more men worked as practitioners and technical workers, whereas more women worked in support roles, Pew said.
Pew surveyed 2,002 adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. Findings also were based on U.S. Census Current Population Survey data.