Economic inequality and the stalled progress toward gender equality

Project Summary:

Women’s participation in the formal economy increased for decades after the 1960s but stalled in the late 1990s. Researchers aren’t sure why this happened, but professors Cohen and Kleykamp propose one possible answer: rising inequality. As income inequality has increased, the pay-off to investing in children has increased as well, making it more attractive to have one parent stay at home—usually the mother. Rising work hours among women has had a large effect on economic growth. U.S. gross domestic product in 2012 would have been 11 percent lower if not for the rising working hours of women. If Cohen and Kleykamp’s hypothesis is right, then rising inequality has held back women’s entrance into the labor market and significantly slowed down American economic growth.


Philip Cohen is professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He has conducted extensive research on families, gender, work, and inequality. His book, The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, was published in 2014. In addition to scholarly articles in sociology and demography journals, his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Atlantic, Boston Review, and elsewhere. He is the co-editor of Contexts magazine, and has served on the boards of the Population and Family sections of the American Sociological Association.

Selected Publications

The persistence of workplace gender segregation in the U.S.

Occupational gender segregation remains one of the defining elements of gender inequality in modern societies. Recent trends for the United States show that occupational segregation remains high and did not substantially decline in the decade...