Over the course of the past four decades, women have been making significant gains in labor force participation and educational attainment.

In 2010, women made up almost half of the labor force (46.7%). In 1997, women made up 46.2% of the labor force. In 1970 women made up only 38.1% of the labor force.

On the education front, women have made substantial strides and now surpass men in both college enrollment and completion. Some 44% of women ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college or graduate programs as of October 2010, compared with 60%38% of men in the same age group.

In spite of their educational advantage and increased presence in the workplace, women continue to lag behind men in terms of earning power. In 2010, women who were full-time or salaried workers had median weekly earnings of $669, compared with $824 for their male counterparts. Still, women have made big strides in attaining equal pay. In 1979, when data of this sort began being collected, women earned on average 62% of what men earned. After steadily rising for the past two and a half decades, the growth in the women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio settled around 2004 and has remained in the 80-81% range since then.

Today’s wage gap is smaller among young workers than among their older counterparts. Among all workers ages 16 to 34, women’s earnings are more than 90% of men’s; this ratio drops for women ages 35 to 64, who earn 80% or less of what men earn across the board. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.