Social attitudes and the gender pay gap in the USA in recent years
Purpose – Although the labor force participation rates for women in the USA have steadily risen during the last three decades, the gender pay gap has not decreased significantly since 1992. In fact, there is evidence that it actually widened during the 1990s. This paper seeks to present a social economics explanation of this phenomenon. Mainstream economic explanations for the anomalous behavior of the gender pay gap in the USA in recent years usually involve increasing numbers of women opting for part-time jobs. Recognizing the importance of social change in explaining certain features of the labor market, this paper aims to explore whether a broad change in social attitudes towards women's roles may form the basis for such phenomena. Design/methodology/approach – A unique set of questions from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth which asks the same respondents about their attitudes towards “traditional” roles for women in 1987 and again in 2004 allows measurement of the change in attitudes in individual respondents. The survey population is then partitioned into those whose attitudes towards women's roles became “more traditional” and “less traditional,” and the gender pay gap, as well as other characteristics, of each sub-population is analyzed. Findings – Of respondents who reported a significant change in their attitude towards women's roles between 1987 and 2004, a larger number of respondents became more traditional in their views, agreeing with statements such as “a woman's place is in the home.” A majority of those with college or professional degrees became more traditional in their attitudes, whereas a majority of those with a high school education became less traditional. Being a woman was significant and negatively correlated with an increase in pay among respondents who became more traditional, whereas no significant correlation was observed among those who became less traditional in their social attitudes. Originality/value – The results indicate that social attitudes towards women's roles in the USA may have become more traditional during the 1990s, which is a new finding. The correlation found between social attitudes and women's pay provides an insight into why the gender pay gap persists despite the greatly increased labor force participation rates of women.
Gender, Income, Labour market, Social roles, United States of America, Women
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