Tomorrow is Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the day, in 1920, when U.S. women were granted the right to vote. (Asterisk: White women.)
One historical story
Congress finally passed a Constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage in 1918, after decades of activism. The suffrage movement in the end successfully made a few convincing arguments – and one clarification. The most important may have been that White women had proved their patriotism during the war, and so they finally deserved the vote. I wrote in 1996:
“No one thing connected with the war is of more importance at this time than meeting the reasonable demand of millions of patriotic and Christian women of the Nation that the amendment for woman suffrage be submitted to the states,” declared Representative James Cantrill. And, he added, “Right, justice, liberty and democracy have always been, and will always be, safe in the tender care of American womanhood.”
And you know what he meant by “American womanhood” (an image the mainstream suffrage movement encouraged to various degrees over the years):
The important clarification was that women’s suffrage would absolutely not hurt White supremacy in the South. You know how it is when you just need that Southern vote. I went on:
If reluctant congressmen would only believe in the contribution of white women that was waiting to be made, suffrage advocates explained, the political math was irresistible. “There are more white women of voting age in the South to-day than there are negro men and women together,” [Congress’s only woman, Jeannette] Rankin said. Representative Scott Ferris assured them that poll taxes and literacy tests would remain untouched, so that “for every negro woman so enfranchised there will be hundreds and thousands of intelligent white women enfranchised” (Congressional Record 1918, 779). And Representative Thomas Blanton proclaimed, “So far as State rights are concerned, if this amendment sought to take away from any State the right of fixing the qualifications of its voters, I would be against it first, last, and all the time, but such it does not.” Although states should be allowed to set qualifications for voting, he believed, they could not do so at the expense of undermining true republicanism, and, “if you deny the 14,000,000 white women of this country the right to vote, you are interfering with a republican form of government [Applause]” (786). That day, the House passed the amendment with the required two-thirds vote.
Anyway, rights are rights, America is America, history is history (ha ha).
Some pay gap numbers
Back to nowadays. Today’s numbers come from some analysis of the gender earnings gap I did to support the Council on Contemporary Families brief for Women’s Equality Day. One big story is women’s rising education levels, especially BA completion.
In the active labor force as often described (age 25-54, working at least 20 hours per week and 26 weeks in the previous year), women surpassed men in BA completion in 2002:
That’s very good for women with regard to the earnings gap, because at every level of education men earn more than women. Women’s full-time full-year earnings are between 70% and 80% of men’s at all education levels except the highest, where they diverge: men who are doctors and lawyers earn much more than women, while women PhDs are doing relatively well. Here’s the 2015 breakdown by education:
With the education trend and differentials in mind, consider these multivariate model results. Going back to the sample of 25-54-year-old people working at least half-time and half the year, here are two results. The first line, in blue, shows the gender earnings ratio when only age is controlled. It shows women gaining on men from 2000 to 2016, from 77% to 83%. This is not much progress for 25 years, but it’s the slow pace we’ve come to expect during that time. The other line shows result from a more complete model, which adds controls for education, race/ethnicity, marital status, and presence of children; it shows even less progress.
In the full model (orange line) the relative gains for women are not as great. (Note I don’t include occupation in the “full” model although that’s very important; it’s just also an outcome of gender so I let it be in the gender variable for descriptive purposes.)
In the old days, when women had less education than men, controlling for education shrank the gap; now it appears the opposite is true. I haven’t done the whole decomposition to confirm this, but here’s another way to look at it. The next figure shows the same models, but in two separate samples, with and without BA degrees (and no control for education). The figure shows little progress within education groups. This implies it’s the increase in education for women that is driving the progress seen in the previous figure.
In conclusion: there is a substantial gender earnings gap at every level of education. The limited progress toward equality we’ve seen in the past 25 years may be driven by increases in women’s education.
There is a lot of other research on this — especially about segregation, which I didn’t include here — and a lot more to be done.
This is a little analysis, but if you’d like to do more, or see how I did what I’ve shown here, I posted the Stata code, data from IPUMS.org, codebook, and spreadsheet file on the Open Science Framework site here. You can use any of it for whatever you like, with a citation that looks like this one the OSF generates:
Cohen, P. N. (2017, August 25). Gender wage gap analysis, 1992-2016. Retrieved from osf.io/mhp3z