Women not only are working outside the home in greater numbers, but their educational attainment, both in absolute terms and relative to men, has risen sharply since 1970. Historically, women have graduated from high school at higher rates 5 than men, but proportionately fewer women went on to college.
This gap is narrowing. The proportion of men who have completed four years of college or more rose by 80 percent from 1970 to 1992, the proportion of women with four years of college or more rose by 130 percent over the same period.
Although average annual earnings for college-educated women in 1991 was only about two-thirds of the mean for college-educated men ($33,144 versus $50,747), it was still considerably more than average earnings for women with only a high school degree ($19,336). College-educated women are much more likely to work, and to work full time, than are women who did not attend college.
College-educated women are also likely to marry later than their counterparts with high-school educations and to delay childbearing. Since marital status and motherhood have traditionally been important determinants of female tabor force participation, delayed marriage, and lower birth rates are highly interrelated with women’s labor force attachment. In the 1980s, many women appear to have deliberately postponed childbearing in order to invest in their education and careers.
In 1990, approximately 90 percent of the 18 million childless women aged 18 to 39 were in school or in the labor force. Clearly, the enormous influx of women into the workplace has taken place despite the continuing differential between women’s and men’s earnings Women’s contributions to family earnings have increased considerably over the last twenty years. The share of family income due to the wife’s earnings has grown more than the share due to any other source of income over this period In 1980, wives’ earnings in married-couple families were approximately 41 percent of their husbands’ earnings; by 1987, the most recent year for which comparable data are published, wives’ earnings had risen to 45 percent.