By: Michelle Smith
April 6, 2014
Call it an American paradox. Women in the U.S. are working more and earning more, yet many families are getting poorer.
In the early 1970s, only 43 percent of women earned wages compared to today when 6 in 10 women are working, new research from Pew Charitable Trusts shows.
Women in their prime working years are now earning nearly triple what their mothers did.
A generation ago, women worked an average of 24 hours per week for the equivalent of $10 per hour, contributing the likes of $12,500 a year to the family income, Businessweek says the data show.
Today, the average woman’s work week is 10 hours longer, and at an average wage of $19 a hour, she contributes $34,400 to family income.
Pew says these changes have boosted “financial security and mobility” for millions of families since 1970. But this picture of progress is “cold comfort” for poor and working class families, because income for the bottom 40 percent of families is falling, notes The Atlantic.
To be sure, the data show that all income groups have seen their wages rise since the 1970s. However, middle and upper class women saw their work translate into more gains in family income “because marriage is alive and well,” The Atlantic explains.
Poor and working class women are missing the benefits of pooled income. As marriage rates have declined for these women, more have become single mothers, offsetting their financial gains.
Men’s wages remain more important than women’s with regards to increasing couples’ family income, Pew researchers found.
Another reason poor and working class are seeing incomes—and likely marriage—decline is because men’s income has fallen as women were making gains. And the problem has been most pronounced among lower-income men.
Money still plays an important role in the sustainability of relationships, The Atlantic reminds.
Husbands and boyfriends now have less dough to dish out than they once did. Unfortunately, this economic erosion means that lower-income men are less likely to be deemed worthy of marrying or retaining as a spouse.
Also, adding to the paradox is that during the past 15 years fewer mothers, married or single, are joining the workforce to cash on the higher wages for women.
Many modern mothers do not work. Most mothers who do work, don’t work full-time, nor do they want to.
The Atlantic points to a CBS/New York Times poll, which shows 22 percent of women with children under 18 said they would stay home if money were no object. 49 percent said they would prefer to work only part-time.
That compares to 52 percent of fathers in the poll who preferred to work full time even if money was no object and they could do as they wanted.
Once the common storyline was that of women set to take society by storm becoming the richer sex.
That momentum has long simmered down; the gender revolution tapered off in the 1990s, says The Atlantic.
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