The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages
In the United States, women’s earnings rose from 60% of men’s earnings in 1979 to 69% in 1989. This increase was the result of cultural and legal developments in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited gender discrimination in the workplace. Other significant factors include the women’s rights movements, as well as the ability for younger women to delay having children, according to a 2012 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study, “The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages,” examines how access to oral contraception — more commonly known as “the Pill” — may have affected women’s wages over time and narrowed the gender wage gap in the 1980s and early 1990s. Researchers used birth cohort data and supplemental survey data to determine the extent to which changing the legal age of consent from 21 to 18 allowed younger, typically unmarried women access to the Pill, and how this early access was reflected in women’s employment, educational attainment and earnings in subsequent decades.
Key study highlights include:
- Access to the Pill at age 18 “lowered women’s wages in their early twenties (corresponding to the 1970s), but raised their wages in their thirties and forties (corresponding to the 1980s and 1990s).”
- “By their late forties, women with early access to the Pill earned a statistically significant hourly premium of 8 percent … or 63 cents more per hour and roughly 2,200 dollars more per year.” The researchers suggest that these wage gains can be largely attributed to the accrual of more work experience.
- Women who had early access to the Pill attended 0.18 more years of school by their late forties than their counterparts without early access to the Pill.
- “The fraction of women working in professional or managerial jobs in their mid-thirties was roughly twice as high for cohorts born in the mid-1940s as for cohorts born a decade earlier…. Women’s representation in these fields at age 30 increased by 25 percentage points between the cohorts born in the early and late 1940s and another 24 percentage points for cohorts born in the early 1950s.”
- Women with mid-range and higher IQ scores who had early access to the Pill saw the largest wage increases; women with mid-range IQs who had early Pill access saw their wages grow 20% at ages 30 to 49. Early access to the Pill conferred negligible benefits, however, for women in the lower third of the IQ distribution.
- While early access to the Pill cannot solely account for the reduction of the gender wage gap, “10 percent of the narrowing in the gender gap during the 1980s and 31 percent during the 1990s can be attributed to early access to the Pill.”
Today, a greater percentage of young women are earning college degrees and pursuing well-paying careers than their male counterparts. The authors conclude that “the Pill’s power to transform childbearing from probabilistic to planned shifted women’s career decisions and compensation for decades to come.”
Tags: employment, women and work
Read the study-related Raw Story article titled "Study Finds that Women with Access to ‘The Pill’ Make More Money."
- What key insights from the study and article should reporters be aware of as they cover issues relating to women in the workplace and family planning?
Read the full study titled “The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?