There have been striking changes in the economic lives of women in recent decades as they improved their education and work prospects, yet historical patterns placing them in lower-paying jobs persist, Census Bureau analysts said Tuesday.
"Women remain in a secondary economic status despite unprecedented change," Cynthia M. Taeuber and Victor Valdiser wrote in their report, "Women in the American Economy."
And they said the future for women "is uncertain and remains a challenge to the American economic, political and social system and to women themselves."
"Making it in today's world is not the same for all women," the report observed.
It noted that the reasons for the continuing economic problems of women are complex and not easily measured.
Among these are the pressures of family responsibility, social conditioning, educations that differ from those of men and discrimination by men, who do most of the hiring and promoting.
For example, the median annual income of women working full time in 1984 was $15,600, compared to $24,004 for men.
But that ratio of women earning 64% of men's income--up from 59% in 1970--is a statistic often misinterpreted, the report said.
The median is affected by the fact that many women are concentrated in relatively low-paying jobs, not that they are paid only 64% of what men earn for the same jobs, it said.
And things are changing. For people age 18 to 24, the ratio of female to male income was 88% in 1984, up from 76% in 1980, "an indication of significant improvements in the wage gap among younger workers over a short time period," the study found.
This has improved as more women have pursued educations, which tend to increase pay, the report noted.
It said the overall wage gap between the sexes may be explained in part by "differences in the productive capacities of men and women, differences in the distribution of men and women among different jobs and discrimination in the labor market."
Some women choose lower-paying jobs for other benefits, such as flexible hours to give them more time with their families. This may be a rational decision in a family, because men can earn more working full time, in general, the analysts said.
In addition, they said, women often take different educational courses, leading to different jobs.
"One further possibility is that women may be held back from the higher levels of professions because the men who do the hiring for such positions tend to choose people they are comfortable with," the report added.
In recent years, women have made significant gains in employment, it said. Many of these were women who entered the labor force in the decades after World War II with little experience or training, however.
In 1985, about 54.5% of women age 16 and over were in the civilian labor force, up from 44.8% in 1973.
This increased employment is a central factor in the economic status of women, although it comes with some problems, the study said. Women have joined the work force in record numbers, but at the same time "there has been no discernible reduction in (their) household and family responsibilities"
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 1995, between 78% and 82% of women age 25 to 54 will be in the labor force, accounting for two-thirds of the growth in the force over the next decade.
More in Lower Brackets
But "even though women have made progress in entering occupations predominantly held by men in the past . . . the majority of women are still in the traditional 'female' occupations."