Money, then and now: what working women (not) have changed

We just launched Money Archives, a new experience where we digitize decades of paper Money magazines. This is the first in a series of “past” and “present” stories that explore how personal finance — and our coverage of it — has evolved over time.


Fifty years ago, women made up one-third of the U.S. workforce—but they weren’t allowed to apply for a credit card, business loan, or mortgage without their husband’s consent (and signature). To borrow an old adage, a 1972 Money story claimed that many “professional wives” lived “half bread” and made some money, but brought home nowhere near what they needed .

“Childcare, discriminatory taxes, and hidden spending can eat up 70 percent of women’s contributions to household income,” we wrote at the time.

Five years on, little has changed.

Today, women make up more than half of the U.S. workforce, but they still face “the same problems,” said Randy Albelda, professor emeritus of economics and senior fellow at the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“We haven’t caught up yet,” she said.

Women still earn less than men. While every American’s situation is unique, Albelda said there are three main factors behind the gender pay gap.

One is what she calls the “care penalty,” or “this notion of having to shape your employment around caring for children and others in the family”. Second is the occupational disparity, with women being assigned to lower-paying jobs. The third, of course, is discrimination — outsiders who think “you’re not that good because you’re a woman, or you’re not that good because you’re a person of color. That discrimination still exists,” Albelda said.

If we just look at the numbers, we can see that in 1972, women earned 56% less than men. By 2022, women’s earnings will still fall by about 21%. (See the table below for more information.)

The wage gap between men and women is still widening, with men’s minimum wage expectations being $24,000 higher than women’s. July data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows the wage gap: Women’s median weekly earnings totaled $943. For men, the figure is $1,144.

Median male salary (4-year degree), 1972 Median female salary (4-year degree), 1972
$14,400 $9,200
Data from “The Half-Loaf Life of a Working Wife”.
Median male salary in 2022 Median female salary in 2022
$54,912 $45,264
The weekly earnings reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are multiplied by 52 to calculate the median annual wage.

Pay disparities directly affect women’s financial well-being, as well as their futures. According to the Center for American Progress, if the average woman could invest all of the income she lost over her 40-year career, she could make an extra $1.6 million in retirement savings.

“[Wage inequality] Affects all women, but affects them differently,” Albelda said. “For example, women of color face more wage discrimination, which will affect you for the rest of your life because you will have less money to spend on pensions, investments to your children and yourself. This increases and accumulates over time. “

Our writers in 1972 could never have predicted the COVID-19 crisis, but when the pandemic forced a nationwide lockdown in 2020, the situation for women and caregivers became even more tense. Families have felt an almost immeasurable physical and emotional toll — and that’s not counting the financial consequences.

Nearly 9,000 child care centers in 37 U.S. states were closed between December 2019 and March 2021, forcing many working parents to juggle work and child care, according to Child Care Awareness of America data. The situation has caused some mothers to lose wages, savings, retirement, health insurance and career development opportunities.

“Mothers tend to shape their employment around caregiving, so even if they have a job, they may choose a job that gives them some flexibility so they can make sure the kids are where they should be,” he said. Alberta said. “COVID-19 has made us realize that schools and child care centers are important mechanisms for getting women to work.”

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Women who don’t or can’t leave the workforce have to deal with remote work — often while supervising their children’s remote schooling in the next room. This presents its own and still evolving challenges. However, according to Albelda, in some cases, remote work offers women an opportunity to recalibrate.

“It’s a double-edged sword, although I believe it gives people more time to do more of the things they need to do to help balance their work and family,” she said.

The rise of remote work, like the gender pay gap, affects everyone in different ways. There is no single statistic to sum this up, and no single story to tell, especially with the wide range of genders in America today. But despite some progress, Albelda said there is still a long way to go to achieve income equality.

In 1972, many women may have experienced the “half loaf” of life.

Now, it’s “three-quarters of a loaf, or maybe two-thirds of a loaf,” she says, with the caveat: “The size of the loaf is different for different people. This It is also an important form of inequality.”

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