Have Changing Family Demographics Narrowed the Gender Wage Gap?


PSTC Seminar Room, Mencoff Hall 205

Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

In the United States, the gender pay gap has narrowed considerably since 1980. Prior research emphasizes how women's convergence with men in human capital has contributed to this trend. We argue that that changing family life also plays a key explanatory role, but not necessarily through convergence in men’s and women’s family traits. Instead, we argue that marriage and parenthood are “wedge” characteristics, more positively associated with men’s wages than women’s. As marriage and fertility declined, a smaller share of workers belonged to groups for whom gender pay gaps are larger – married people and parents. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we show how changes in family life help explain both the narrowing of the gender pay gap since 1980 and the stalled progress in recent decades.

Alexandra (Sasha) Killewald is Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. She is an affiliate of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy. She uses quantitative methods to study inequality in the contemporary United States, with a focus on the relationships among work, family, and money.

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