Recent Trends in Gender Wage Inequality in the United States

Jing Shen



In this review article, I focus on the changing trends and main explanations of gender wage inequality in the United States. First, I briefly describe the most prominent trends in gender wage inequality since the end of the 1970s. I then summarize theoretical explanations of these trends at both the individual level and the structural level. At the individual level, neoclassical human capital theory highlights the sharp increase in women’s educational attainment as the reason for the narrowing trend in the gender pay gap, while using the gender differences in educational and work experience to explain the persistence of this gap. An emerging debate about the human capital explanation is whether the observed gender disparities in educational and work experiences are the result of individuals’ personal choices or the consequences of social construction. I subsequently numerate three main sociological theories—gendered socialization, statistical discrimination, and social capital—to show how social values, conventions, and systems shape individuals’ “free” choices. At the structural level, I emphasize the fundamental shift in the industrial structure and employment arrangements driven by the skill-biased technology change (SBTC) and globalization. I conclude this article by summarizing both the positive and the worrisome trends in gender wage inequality, and by outlining policy implications for achieving gender equity in the future development of the U.S. labor market.

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Copyright (c) 2014 Jing Shen

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Journal of Sociological Research ISSN 1948-5468


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