Wages paid to full-time female workers were 56 percent of wages paid to full-time male workers in 1930. By 1955, this amount had risen somewhat, but then it fell for more than twenty years as tens of millions of relatively low-skilled women flooded into the labor force. Then around 1980, female wages began to rise relative to men's wages, reaching 74 percent in 1997.
This gross measure of relative earnings ignores the fact that, on average, men have more work experience, fewer breaks in service, and more work-related education. When young workers who have never had children (which more often leads to a break in service for women than men) are compared, the gender wage difference almost disappears.
Women's earnings were also smaller than men's earnings because women were not equally represented in the lucrative professions at the top of the occupational scale. But this has been changing. The female proportion of lawyers, physicians, and engineers has risen substantially over the century. Women make up even larger shares of young professionals.