A look at women’s education and earnings since the 1970s

December 27, 2017

The educational attainment of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force rose substantially from 1970 to 2016. In 2016, 42 percent of these women held a Bachelor’s degree and higher, compared with 11 percent in 1970. In 2016, 6 percent of women had less than a high school diploma—that is, did not graduate from high school or earn a GED—down from 34 percent in 1970.

Percent distribution of women in the civilian labor force, 25 to 64 years of age, by educational attainment
YearLess than a high school diploma4 years of high school1 to 3 years of collegeBachelor's degree and higher

1970

33.544.310.911.2

1971

32.244.211.911.8

1972

30.745.111.812.4

1973

28.445.912.413.3

1974

26.745.313.414.6

1975

26.545.513.914.1

1976

24.045.114.716.2

1977

22.845.115.216.9

1978

22.044.916.117.0

1979

20.145.017.117.8

1980

18.445.417.418.7

1981

17.446.117.918.6

1982

16.645.618.319.5

1983

15.644.818.820.9

1984

14.544.918.921.7

1985

13.744.419.922.0

1986

13.244.320.322.2

1987

12.544.020.722.8

1988

12.443.321.223.1

1989

11.942.920.924.3

1990

11.342.421.924.5

1991

10.941.622.225.2

1992

10.337.427.325.0

1993

9.336.628.425.7

1994

9.035.029.826.2

1995

8.834.130.226.9

1996

8.833.629.927.8

1997

8.733.529.428.4

1998

8.832.729.429.2

1999

8.532.129.529.9

2000

8.531.629.830.1

2001

8.431.030.230.4

2002

8.130.629.931.3

2003

7.930.029.932.2

2004

7.729.430.232.6

2005

7.728.730.233.3

2006

7.628.330.233.9

2007

7.127.930.134.9

2008

6.927.230.435.6

2009

7.026.730.336.0

2010

6.826.430.336.4

2011

6.725.830.437.1

2012

6.525.030.438.1

2013

6.324.630.139.0

2014

6.124.129.840.0

2015

6.123.229.641.1

2016

6.022.929.641.6

Note: Data from 1970–1991 are from the March Current Population Survey. The educational attainment categories for these years were based on the number of years of school completed. Data beginning in 1992 are annual averages, and the educational attainment categories are based on the highest diploma or degree received.

Women’s earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings also have grown over time. In 1979, women working full time earned 62 percent of what men earned; in 2016, women’s earnings were 82 percent of men’s.

Women's earnings as a percentage of men's, median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers
Year Total White Black or African American Asian Hispanic or Latino

1979

62.3% 61.7% 74.4% - 71.7%

1980

64.2 63.4 75.8 - 73.5

1981

64.4 63.1 76.9 - 75.7

1982

65.7 64.5 78.1 - 75.5

1983

66.5 65.6 78.9 - 78.5

1984

67.6 66.8 79.5 - 77.7

1985

68.1 67.2 82.6 - 77.7

1986

69.5 67.9 82.8 - 80.6

1987

69.8 68.2 84.4 - 82.0

1988

70.2 68.4 82.8 - 84.4

1989

70.1 69.3 86.5 - 85.4

1990

71.9 71.5 85.3 - 87.4

1991

74.2 73.7 86.1 - 90.4

1992

75.8 75.3 88.2 - 89.1

1993

77.1 76.5 88.8 - 90.5

1994

76.4 74.6 86.5 - 88.9

1995

75.5 73.3 86.4 - 87.1

1996

75.0 73.8 87.9 - 88.8

1997

74.4 74.6 86.8 - 85.7

1998

76.3 76.1 85.5 - 86.4

1999

76.5 75.7 83.8 - 85.7

2000

76.9 75.8 84.1 79.9 87.8

2001

76.4 75.8 85.8 76.9 88.2

2002

77.9 77.9 90.3 74.9 88.0

2003

79.4 79.3 88.5 77.5 88.4

2004

80.4 79.8 88.8 76.4 87.3

2005

81.0 80.2 89.3 80.6 87.7

2006

80.8 80.0 87.8 79.3 87.1

2007

80.2 79.4 88.8 78.1 91.0

2008

79.9 79.3 89.4 78.0 89.6

2009

80.2 79.2 93.7 81.8 89.5

2010

81.2 80.5 93.5 82.6 90.7

2011

82.2 82.1 91.1 77.4 90.7

2012

80.9 80.8 90.1 73.0 88.0

2013

82.1 81.7 91.3 77.3 91.1

2014

82.5 81.8 89.9 77.9 89.0

2015

81.1 80.8 90.4 77.7 89.7

2016

81.9 81.3 89.3 78.4 88.4

Women’s-to-men’s earnings ratios were higher for Blacks and Hispanics (89 percent and 88 percent, respectively) than for Whites (81 percent) and Asians (78 percent).

These data are from the Current Population Survey. To learn more, see Women in the labor force: a databook (November 2017). People whose ethnicity is Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, A look at women’s education and earnings since the 1970s on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/a-look-at-womens-education-and-earnings-since-the-1970s.htm (visited January 21, 2018).

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