It’s been 49 years since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade allowed the right to an abortion. Since then, women have transformed their lives. They have seen their roles in the U.S. workforce vastly expand and their economic power grow.
Many women have far more input at home and in the workforce. Some see those changes at risk after the Supreme Court overturned the fundamental right to abortion Friday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Do you know how much women’s lives have changed since before the Roe ruling in 1973?
Cultural norms have changed drastically over the past five decades, especially for young women. More women delay marriage these days, and they often build their careers or pursue other opportunities before deciding to marry.
Women's decisions around when and how to have a family have changed, with far more women having children later in life compared with their mothers' generation. That's in part due to changing cultural norms and women joining and staying in the workforce longer. Delaying childbirth also became more of an option with technological advancements in medical care, including egg freezing, surrogacy and in vitro fertilization.
As women rose throughout the ranks of the workforce, they brought college degrees with them. At the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, women made up 59.5 percent of college students, an all-time high, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. However, more people generally get college degrees these days. The rate for men over 25 that have attained college degrees also grew, from 19 percent in 1970 to 33 percent in 2020.
Over time, more women have joined the workforce and expanded their careers, sometimes delaying having families or getting married. By late 2019, women outnumbered men in the workforce for only the second time in modern history.
Women's expanded roles in the workforce have also led to more opportunities to be elevated to positions of power, especially in industries that were historically dominated by men. Over the past five decades, a spate of legal rulings have barred sex discrimination at work. For example, in the 1973 case Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the Supreme Court ruled that a local ordinance forbidding newspapers from advertising gender-specific job openings did not violate First Amendment rights.
Over the years, women have made great strides in terms of sheer numbers joining the workforce, but many are still not getting paid much as their male peers. In 2020, women earned 84 percent of what men earned, according to data from the Pew Research Center. That means it takes a woman an extra 42 days of work to earn what a man does, according to 2020 data.
Data is from IPUMS at University of Minnesota.