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Exploring Gender Differences in Employment and Wage Trends Among Less-Skilled Workers.

September 2005

Rebecca M. Blank, University of Michigan and NBER; Heidi Shierholz, University of Michigan.

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While labor force participation and real wage rates among less-skilled men have fallen since the late 1970s, among less-skilled women real wages have not fallen and their labor force participation has in fact risen. This observation falls into a largely unexplored area at the intersection of existing literatures. A substantial literature has investigated the declining returns to less-skilled jobs and the growing wage inequality between more and less-skilled workers in the U.S. labor market (Autor and Katz, 1999; Autor, Katz, and Kearney, 2005), but this literature has focused primarily on men. There is also a large literature on trends in male/female wage differences among all workers (Altonji and Blank, 1999; Bayard, et. al., 2003; Blau and Kahn, 2004), but this literature gives little attention to gender differences by skill level (Blau and Kahn, 1997, is an exception). Furthermore, there is very little literature on differential trends in labor force participation between women and men. Two recent papers address this topic (Mulligan and Rubinstein, 2005; Blau and Kahn, 2005) but again, these papers do not look at differences across skill groups. This paper investigates trends in labor market outcomes for both male and female workers of different skill levels over the past 25 years. We look at gender differences by skill level in labor force participation and wages, exploring why less-skilled women have done better than less-skilled men in recent decades, even while losing ground relative to more-skilled women...

Discrimination, Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market