The Declining Relative Status of Black Women Workers, 1980-2002


During the 1980s and 1990s, industrial restructuring led to a marked increase in wage inequality. Women, however, were not as negatively affected by declining manufacturing employment because their pay was relatively low within the industry, and their already high representation in the service sector provided access to newly created opportunities. However, black and white women did not fare equally and the black-white wage gap more than doubled. As both black and white women increased their representation as professionals and managers, black women became more likely to earn low wages within these occupations. Black degree holders also lost ground as they were unable to keep pace with the remarkable gains made by white women degree holders. The growth in black-white wage inequality, then, was not due to black women's relegation to "bad jobs." Instead, as women increased their share of "good jobs," white women disproportionately benefitted.