As American culture steers a bumpy course toward a matriarchal society, two speed bumps have marred the smooth pavement: the recession and ageism. Next year, college campuses will graduate three women for every two men, and women now make up the majority of the workforce. But for the first time in three decades, the pay gap between men and women has frozen -- and women over the age of 35 still make substantially less than men.
The recession has been a double-edged sword for women's career progress. On the one hand, it pushed women to a statistical majority. In November of 2009, women officially outnumbered men in the workforce as the flailing economy forced companies to lay off expensive male employees. But those same forces may have also caused pay increases to stall -- and maybe even worsen -- for women workers.
This disturbing picture comes from the latest population statistics from the U.S. government. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "After a gradual rise in the 1980s and 1990s, the women's-to-men's earnings ratio peaked at 81 percent in 2005 and 2006." Back in 1979, women made 62 percent as much as men, and that gap continued to narrow until 2006, when it stalled at around 80 percent.
Worse news is that when salaries are broken down by age, experienced older women fare worse than newbie young ladies. Last year, women aged 16 to 24 earned 93 percent of what their male colleagues did, and those aged 25 to 34 made 89 percent. But once women reached the ripe old age of 35, they made only 75 percent as much as men.
There could be three forces at work here. One culprit might be classic ageism, which seems to be leveled at women more often than men. (A preference for youth and beauty is a coveted anthropological reality with homo sapiens.) Another theory involves capitalist pressures: It's more economically feasible for companies to provide pay parity at the entry level, where salaries are lower (the stakes get higher at the executive level). Finally, the pregnancy rate of women over 30 has continued to rise, and older women -- who have accumulated some assets and have a financial edge over young women -- may take longer maternity leaves or choose part-time work, thereby affecting the income statistic.
No matter the reasons behind the current stalled pay gap, in not too many years, employers (who will likely be a female majority themselves) will have no choice but to hire and treat women equally. According to an Atlantic Magazine article entitled "The End of Men," 75 percent of embryos created in fertility clinics are female -- per parental request.
Very soon, "Girl's Rule!" will be more than just a T-shirt slogan.