Women's rising income has been offset by heavier financial burdens and loss of leisure time, so they have failed to gain economic ground on men since 1959, a study says.
"Women have made significant gains in the labor market--working more, more occupations open to them and, since 1979, gains in hourly earnings relative to men," said Stanford University economist Victor R. Fuchs, whose study was published in the journal Science.
"But these gains have been offset by other factors which contribute to economic well-being," which is defined as access to goods, services and leisure, he added.
"One is that women in comparison to men have less leisure now" because working women still do most housework and care for children.
Another is that "a smaller percentage of women are married and able to share in the higher earnings of men," so they bear a heavier financial burden for themselves, Fuchs said.
"And women have more financial responsibilities for children" today than in 1959 because a higher percentage of mothers are unwed or divorced, he added.
His study concluded: "Despite large structural changes in the economy and major anti-discrimination legislation, the economic well-being of women in comparison with that of men did not improve between 1959 and 1983."
During a telephone interview from Stanford, Fuchs added: "Everything that I said goes double for blacks. Black women made much greater advances in the labor market than white women, but . . . many more of them are not married and have financial responsibilities for children."
Fuchs emphasized that his study did not examine possible increases in women's independence, feelings of self-worth and other psychological factors.
His study was based on analysis of statistics from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and other federal surveys for 1959-83. He found virtually no change since 1959 for what he called women's average "effective income per hour of work," a statistical measure of economic well-being.
The lack of overall economic improvement for women occurred despite the fact that while women still lag far behind men in average annual income and hourly wages, they narrowed the gap by going to work in increasing numbers and earning wages that rose more quickly than men's since 1979, the study showed.
In a previous study, Fuchs calculated that employed women made 62 cents for every dollar men earned in 1959, about 64 cents in 1979 and an estimated 69 cents in 1983.
A study published in July by economist James P. Smith of the Rand Corp. found women's economic well-being had increased sharply since 1920 when income gains and loss of leisure were considered.
Other Factors Involved
But Smith said his study does not necessarily contradict Fuchs' findings, because Fuchs also considered how women's economic health could be hindered by the increasing percentage of women supporting themselves and their children.
The studies by Fuchs and Smith suggest that further improvements in women's economic health require solutions to the breakup of the American family, not changes in the labor market, where their opportunities "are expanding very rapidly," Smith said.
Other observers believe that to boost women's economic well-being requires stronger affirmative-action programs, changes in the way wages are determined, and large increases in paid maternity leaves and subsidized day care, Fuchs wrote in his study.