The median salary of single, urban women under age 30 is greater than that of their male counterparts.
But in the usual fashion, this encouraging statistic is only a brief aside in Nancy Folbre’s New York Times article on the gains women haven’t made since the 1970s.
While we knew that women still under-earn men (making 86% of what men earned in 2010), what shocked us was that inequality between women has grown, based on class, racial and ethnic differences.
So, while it looks like women on the whole are making gains, it turns out that is really only true for some women.
Privilege Transcends Gender Lines
“Absolute gains among women as a whole, and visible absolute gains among more highly educated women in particular, came at the expense of the worsening situation of low-skilled women, whose real wages have been falling,” Leslie McCall, a Northwestern University sociologist, told The New York Times.
Simply put, it’s the “rich are getting richer” scenario within only one sex.
The Effects Are Amplified for Mothers
College-educated mothers are earning more and are able to afford childcare and help with housework, which allows them to continue earning more in a self-perpetuating cycle. Meanwhile, women in lower-earning jobs usually face two choices: working long hours or finding low-paying part-time jobs without benefits.
The split between the classes even shows up in the distribution of benefits such as maternity leave. Only 18% of women without a bachelor’s degree receive maternity leave compared to 66% women with a bachelor’s degree.
Government-subsidized childcare could help even the playing field, but it is sorely lacking. The United States is almost alone among affluent countries in not offering paid family leave as a universal entitlement, and, except for the U.S., it’s increasingly common for countries to follow the examples of France and Norway and subsidize childcare for all parents.
Folbre says that the “feminist revolution” isn’t yet complete and that’s it has fallen short of its goals. It can be summarized in a quick change of tense: The revolution hasn’t fallen short of its goals—it’s still falling.