Women Today Earn Less Than Their Dads Did, and If Their Moms Stayed Home, They Marry Rich

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
April 2 2014 9:30 AM

Women Today Earn Less Than Their Dads Did, and If Their Moms Stayed Home, They Marry Rich

father_daughter
According to a new Pew study, women continue to earn less than their fathers did.

Photo by Carme Balcells/Shutterstock

The Pew Charitable Trusts released a report on Tuesday that looked at the economic mobility of women relative to their parents. It compared women who entered their “prime working years” (40 and thereabouts) in the late 1960s and early 1970s with their daughters, who hit 40 in the early aughts. The older generation worked an average of 24 hours a week at $10 per hour; the younger generation worked an average of 34 hours a week at $19 per hour. So daughters outearned mothers by a factor of three. Those gains were real at every rung of the economic ladder.

Not that one needs a Pew study to figure out that today’s women, as a group, net more than their moms did. Median wages have levitated across the board, and women continue their march into the labor force. The report finds that only 53 percent of mothers performed paid work between 1968 and 1972, compared with 85 percent of their daughters.

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But women continue to earn less than their fathers did. (This is not true for men, 70 percent of whom outearn their dads.) And, the researchers say, “men’s wages remain more important to increasing couples’ family income,” despite “women’s significant generational gains.” This is unsurprising given a stubbornly gaping wage gap and the slow thaw of our belief that domestic responsibilities should fall more heavily on women than men. (Events like Monday’s Heritage Foundation panel, in which a table of speakers attested that depression rates for women have spiked because feminism has snatched us all away from our warm stoves and knitting, don’t help.)

The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell had some fun with the findings, asking Pew to run the numbers in several different ways. She discovered that mothers who worked full-time were more likely to have daughters who also work full-time, whether due to transmitted values or economic necessity. Her weirdest revelation, though, was that daughters raised in families in which dad worked and mom did not boast the highest family incomes of all the daughters:

Women whose mothers didn’t have jobs have a median family income of about $86,000. Those whose mothers worked either full time or part time have median family incomes today of about $81,000 and $73,000, respectively.

Yet, Rampell explains, this is not because the daughters whose mothers stayed home earn any more money than their peers. They have just managed to marry higher-paid men. Could their household structure have taught them from an early age that well-compensated dads are crucial to familial flourishing?  

Katy Waldman is Slate’s words correspondent.