Published On: Mon, Apr 23rd, 2012

Young Women Top Men in Valuing a High-Paying Career

Young women now surpass young men in the importance they place on having a high-paying career, according to survey findings from the Pew Research Center.

Two-thirds (66%) of young women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59% of young men, the survey revealed. While, in 1997, 56% of young women and 58% of young men felt the same way.

Over the past 15 years there has also been an increase in the share of middle-aged and older women who say being successful in a high-paying career or profession is “one of the most important things” or “very important” in their lives. Today about the same share of women (42%) and men (43%) ages 35 to 64 say this. In 1997, more middle-aged and older men than women felt this way (41% vs. 26%).

Women have made significant gains in the labor force participation and education attainment over the past four decades. For instance, in 2010, women made up almost half of the labor force (46.7%). In 1997, women made up 46.2% of the labor force, and back in 1970 women made up only 38.1% of the labor force.

In regards to education, women have made substantial strides in recent decades 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 just 38% of men in the same age group. In addition, 36% of women ages 25 to 29 had a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 28% of men in the same age group—a record-high divergence. Women first surpassed men in these realms in the early 1990s, and the gap has been growing wider ever since.

Despite this 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. 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, reports Pew Research Center.

Further, 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; however this ratio drops for women ages 35 to 64, who earn 80% or less of what men earn across the board.

All in all, there have been significant changes over the decades in the experiences of women and men in the labor force. Attitudes have also changed. A 1978 Gallup survey asked respondents to rate how much they agree with the following statement: “Commitment to a meaningful career is very important to me.” Back in 1978, 67% of young men ages 18 to 34 agreed strongly, while only 53% of young women said the same.

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