The narrowing of the male-female wage gap
Ethan Lewis () and
Mark Doms ()
FRBSF Economic Letter, 2007, issue jun29
According to several measures, the difference in wages between men and women, the so-called \\"male-female wage gap\\" (MFWG), has shrunk substantially--by about half--over the past several decades. This phenomenon has been the subject of much research, speculation, and contention. For example, some seek to explain why the gap narrowed so dramatically in the 1980s only to narrow much more slowly in subsequent years. Others have considered the role of new technology, which may have helped level the playing field between the sexes; this view recalls the rise of office work at the turn of the 20th century, which is also thought to have benefited women (Goldin 1990). ; In this Letter, we focus on an important portion of the research in this area, particularly as it pertains to the very sharp decline in the MFWG during the 1980s. We summarize three of the more well-known possible explanations: declining discrimination against women, rising skills and workforce attachment of women, and changing selection. While each has strong merit in its own right, none has come to be the dominant explanation. We speculate that it may be fruitful, though challenging, to consider whether these three explanations worked together, occurring simultaneously and reinforcing one another, to result in the sharp narrowing of the MFWG in the 1980s.
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