For decades, women have been—slowly—catching up with men, in terms of how much they earn. But this year, that trajectory seems to have stopped or even reversed. According to an analysis of Americans’ weekly median earnings by The Wall Street Journal, men’s earnings are growing quite a bit faster than women’s this year. In the first three quarters of 2015, the increase in men’s earnings was double that of women’s. Compared with 2014, where the gap was the narrowest on record, this has raised some eyebrows.
What is going on here? Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the Labor Department, says it’s important to look at the longer-term trends rather than just a year. “Men’s wages have been stagnant or falling since the 1970s,” said Shierholz. “Women’s wages, on the other hand, made substantial improvements from the 1970s up until the early 2000s.”
The gains in women’s wages in that 30-year period can be attributed to greater educational attainment, increasing female employment, and more women staying in the workforce after having children—which together led to higher wages and occupational upgrading (which means women upgraded to higher paying jobs that require more skill). But in the early 2000s, this dynamic shifted and women’s wage growth slowed. Though Shierholz believes it’s still a generally upward trend, the pace of improvement over the last decade has been much slower than during previous periods.