Explanations for the apparent paradox have pointed out that during the post War period of rapid increases in the proportion of women who work, the experience level and other work related attributes of the average employed women did not increase, as less experienced women joined the ranks of the employed. The failure of the wage gap to narrow before 1980, therefore, can be partly explained by the failure of women's lifetime work experience to rise as new labor force entrants lowered the work experience of the average working woman.
This research utilizes data from the three continuing panels of the National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) — the mature women, the young women, and the youth cohort — to measure accumulated years of work experience and to examine changes in life-cycle work patterns across successive cohorts of women born between 1923 and 1964.
This study has investigated how these successive cohorts of women have changed with respect to their accumulation of work-related skills, in terms of level of schooling, career orientation, and attachment to the labor force.
Our results provide evidence that work-related investments have increased from cohort to cohort among white women, although not necessarily for all cohorts of black women. And while we cannot determine from our analysis the extent to which women or their employers are responsible for the increased levels of investment, the former pattern of flat age-earnings profiles for women — the dead-end job syndrome — finally appears to have been overcome, which bodes well for future narrowing of the gender wage gap.