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Press Release · November 23, 2004

Women’s Work: Married Women, Mothers Drive Family Income Growth

More Income, More Hours, More Issues

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 23, 2004 — Women make up nearly half of California’s 18 million-strong workforce. A new study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) finds that dramatic increases in women’s work participation and earnings over the past 30 years have fundamentally altered the workplace and family life. The growth in the number of working women is also linked to major social and economic trends, such as higher levels of education among women, smaller families, and the declining earnings of men.

While less than half of California’s working-age women participated in the labor market in the late 1960s, that share has grown to over 70 percent in the past few years. Most of this growth has been driven by major increases in the number of mothers and married women who work: Fifty-four percent of married women with a child under age 6 now participate in the labor market — double the share who did so in the late 1960s. Among single mothers of young children and married women with no young children, work participation grew from under 50 percent to about 70 percent during the same period. Single women’s participation has held steady at about 80 percent.

California women today are earning annual incomes that are about 75 percent higher than they were in the late 1960s. This increase is the result of women working more hours, earning more per hour (about a 35 percent hourly increase since 1975), and entering higher-paying occupations. In 2000, 12 percent of California women – compared to 20 percent of men – were in high wage professions such as the law, medicine, and computer science. In 1976, the share of women in high-wage occupations was only 7 percent, while men’s share was 24 percent.

The salaries of married women have been the main engine of family income growth over the past twenty years. Minus wives’ earnings, the sum of all other sources of family income has declined by 9 percent since 1979. “Women’s salaries are definitely improving the economic status of families in California today,” says the study’s author and PPIC research fellow Deborah Reed. “But this increased reliance on the earnings of women brings with it many new pressures and costs, especially as working parents try to negotiate child care.”

Beyond the financial aspect, trends for working women are strongly related to social and cultural changes, from soaring educational attainment to later childbearing and smaller families. In 1969, only 28 percent of California women had attended college and only 11 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher; in 2002, 60 percent had attended college and nearly 30 percent had a bachelor’s or advanced degree. In addition, the average number of children among women ages 30 to 40 today is 1.5, compared to 2.5 in the late 1960s. Both higher levels of education and taking less time off to raise children are associated with higher incomes.

More Findings

  • Women earn approximately 80 cents for every dollar men make, mostly because women take more time off to raise children and work in lower paid occupations than their male counterparts.
  • Nearly 30 percent of married women earn as much or more than their husbands.
  • Foreign-born Hispanic women have the lowest work participation rates (58%), largely because they have more children on average and lower levels of education.
  • Preschools or day care centers are the most common child care arrangement for parents who work full time (54%) followed by care from a relative (43%).
  • Among single mothers, only those with infants under age 1 have low work participation (43%); those with children who are age 1 participate at a rate of 73 percent; those with children who are age 2 or higher participate at a rate of about 80 percent.
  • The concentration of women in the ten most common female occupations (including secretaries, teachers, registered nurses, and cashiers) has dropped from 34 to 23 percent during the past two decades.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.