These mixed findings have emerged from the most comprehensive report on the status of American women in 50 years, which was released last month by the Obama administration.
The report found that women have "significantly outpaced" men in terms of educational achievement, with women more likely to finish high school and to achieve a bachelor's or masters degree than men. However, women are still under-represented in maths, sciences, engineering and computer sciences, earning fewer than two in ten of degrees in these academic fields. And while women's earnings have risen, the pay gap remains, with women earning on average 80 30 years ago. On the upside, the proportion of working wives earning more than their husbands has grown from two in ten in 1988 to nearly three in ten in 2008.
"Women have made enormous progress on some fronts," said Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which published the report. "Yet these gains in education and labor force involvement have not yet translated into wage and income equity. We know there is much more to do...reports like this one help us to achieve that goal." Increases in education are linked with both men and women marrying and having children later, the study found. Couples now marry about five years later than they did in 1950, for example, when both sexes tended to marry in their late teens or early twenties, and a quarter of women have their first child aged 30 or over, compared with just four per cent of women in the 1970s.
Depressingly, employed wives spend about 40 minutes per day more than their husbands doing household activities like cooking, cleaning and washing and 20 minutes more caring for household members. All of this eats into their leisure time – while employed husbands have 3.2 hours for leisure or sporting activities on an average workday, employed wives have just 2.7 hours. The report also revealed that women are more likely than men to live in poverty, with both women living alone and women bringing up children alone having lower incomes than households headed by men. Single working mothers also spend more time in the workplace than married working mothers. President Obama set up the Council on Women and Girls in early 2008 to measure how government policies and programmes impact on women and girls.
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