FRAN BLAU: Hi, I'm Fran Blau, a professor of labor economics here at the ILR school. I'd like to talk to you today about the gender pay gap. And this actually is the perfect room to do it in. This is the ILR school faculty lounge. And over here, we have a picture of Frances Perkins. Perkins was Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first woman to ever serve in the cabinet of the United States.
Madam Secretary, as she was called, ended her career here at the ILR school. And I'm very proud to have a chair named in her honor. The title of my talk is The Gender Pay Gap-- Going, Going, But Not Gone. As this title implies, the picture of women's progress in recent years has been somewhat mixed.
On the one hand, we've seen considerable progress for women. The gender pay gap has narrowed significantly and more and more women have been entering jobs that were traditionally overwhelmingly male. One of the things that makes these developments especially dramatic to me personally is the changes that have occurred in my own lifetime dwarf those of earlier years.
What has happened is that, after an extremely long period of stability in the earnings of women relative to men and in the types of jobs women and men worked in, we've seen over the last 20 to 30 years enormous and very impressive changes. These changes are also interesting because, when you compare women to their male counterparts, the changes have been prevalent across a wide spectrum.
So for example, at first, many of the gains were centered on younger women. But now, while the gains may be a bit larger for younger women, women of all ages have narrowed the pay gap with men. The same broad progress is visible when we look at gains of women by educational category. Highly educated women have caught up to highly educated men. But less educated women have also narrowed the pay gap with less educated men.
The gains that women have achieved are particularly remarkable because they've occurred during a period when overall wage inequality has been rising. That is, the difference in pay between workers with very high wages and workers with low wages has widened considerably over the past 25 years or so. And yet, somehow, women, a low-paid group, have nonetheless been able to narrow the pay gap with men, a relatively higher paid group.
OK, all of that was on the one hand-- remarkable, important, significant progress for women. On the other hand, there still is a gender pay gap. Women continue to earn considerably less than men on average. It's also true that convergence in men's and women's pay has slowed noticeably in recent years. Putting this a little differently, women were especially gaining relative to men in the 1980s.
Since the early 1990s, however, there hasn't been as much progress. With the evidence that convergence has slowed in recent years, the possibility arises that the narrowing of the gender pay gap will not continue into the future. Moreover, there is evidence that, although discrimination against women in the labor market has declined, some discrimination does continue to exist. So we cannot assume today that there is no more gender discrimination in the labor market.
The way I'm going to organize my talk is, first of all, say a few words about why the pay gap is interesting and important to people in general and economists in particular. Then I'll review the female gains in much more detail and also point to the slowing that has occurred in recent years.
Following that, I will consider explanations for the pay gap between men and women in general and explanations for what accounts for the convergence that we have seen so far. Finally, I'll gaze into my crystal ball and consider the future. But you have to realize that when social scientists or economists consider the future, they're probably wrong as often as they're right. It's very hard to predict.
When things are going in a sort of smooth, continuous fashion, it's probably easier to predict the future and that things are likely to continue on their current path. It's much harder, on the other hand, to predict sharp changes. All this is to say that the future is especially hard to predict when we have the kind of mixed picture I've described here for trends in the gender pay gap. But maybe we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Back to basics. Why are economists so interested in wages? Does the general population share this interest?
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Francine Blau, the Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Labor Economics at Cornell ILR School, describes trends in the gender pay gap, considers fundamental explanations for the gender pay gap and uses these explanations to understand the trends.
This video is part 1 of 8 in The Gender Pay Gap series.