The Thinking 

Vital Statistics

May 29, 2009


When President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law earlier this year, he once again fueled the myth that women sufffer from widespread pay discrimination. In truth, there is no serious wage discrimination against women and there is ample reason to believe that the end of customary employment discrimination in favor of men has forced many women into the workforce, led to dramatic declines in fertility and suppressed the wages of men.

Women have been far and away the primary beneficiaries of any gains in real wages over the last 25 years. From 1979 to 2006, real wages of men declined by two percent, while they increased by 24 percent for women. (See chart on median incomes here.)

The differences are the most dramatic at lower income levels, with male high school graduates experiencing drops of 15 percent and comparable women’s wages rising by four percent. Wages for college graduates rose by 17 percent for men and 32 percent for women, as women became more numerous in higher paying jobs.

Economists dispute how much the stagnation of male wages at the lower end has influenced – and been influenced by – employment gains by women. It is interesting to note that employment of married women of high-earning husbands has increased more dramatically than employment of women at lower education levels, where men’s wages have declined.


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