Gender-Related Shifts in the Distribution of Wages

By Ryscavage, Paul | Monthly Labor Review, July 1994 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Gender-Related Shifts in the Distribution of Wages


Ryscavage, Paul, Monthly Labor Review


In recent years, U.S. wage earners have faced a variety of changes in the labor market. For example, computers and other information technologies have redefined the nature of many jobs, corporate downsizings and layoffs have altered the career paths of numerous workers, and stiffer global and domestic competition has sharpened concerns over labor costs on the part of employers. These developments and others have produced changes in the shape of the wage distribution and, for many wage earners, their location in it.

It is common knowledge today that the Nation's wage structure became more dispersed and unequal in the 1980's.(1) Not only did the gap between low-wage workers and high-wage workers widen, but the percentage of workers in the middle of the distribution thinned out, resulting in larger percentages of workers at the bottom and top. Research on growing wage inequality, which Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane recently reviewed, has been voluminous.(2)

The cause of growing wage inequality in the 1980's, however, continues to be the subject of much research, and various explanations have been proposed. A leading candidate has been a shift in the demand for labor in favor of highly skilled and educated workers within industries. Two pairs of researchers--Lawrence F. Katz and Kevin M. Murphy, and John Bound and George Johnson--have associated these shifts with skill-biased technological change, or changes in technology that require well-trained workers.(3) The corollary to such shifts, of course, is the collapsing demand for unskilled workers during the 1980's.(4)

The growing concentration of workers with low wages and the perception that "middle class" jobs were disappearing also prompted much economic research. Not surprisingly, relative shifts in demand along skill and training dimensions were found to be responsible for the increase in low-wage employment. Gary Burtless recently wrote: "The problem they [unskilled workers] face is not an overabundance of bad jobs...but a surplus of unskilled workers in a market requiring more skill than ever."(5) Some research has focused on specific groups. For example, McKinley L. Blackburn, David E. Bloom, and Richard B. Freeman examined the declining economic situation of unskilled white men aged 25 to 64 years and unskilled young men aged 25 to 34 years.(6) Research of this kind, along with growing public concern over the increase in low-wage employment, prompted the Bureau of the Census to publish a report profiling the demographic and social characteristics of workers with low earnings.(7)

It is understandable why so much attention has been focused on the lower end of the wage distribution: the greater incidence of low-wage employment among those persons who maintain families and households has serious economic and social implications. But changes have also taken place in other parts of the income distribution, changes that reflect our ever-evolving society, economy, and labor market. In a rapidly changing world of work, policymakers, the media, and the public should be aware of how the various segments of our wage distribution are being affected.

In the following descriptive analysis, attention is focused on the gender-related shifts that have taken place in the Nation's wage distribution in the 1980's. As has been observed, earnings of women have grown faster, on average, than those of men during the period. But the distributional consequences of these disparate trends have received little attention.

The analysis begins with a brief discussion of some issues pertaining to measuring the wage distribution with the data that are analyzed. Changes in the general shapes of the total wage distribution and the wage distributions for men and women between 1979 and 1989 are then discussed. Subsequent sections are devoted to changes in the proportions of men and women employed in specific segments of the distribution. These changes are further examined by age, education, and industrial sector, and then changes between 1989 and 1992 are presented.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Gender-Related Shifts in the Distribution of Wages
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?