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Why men are out-earning their dads, but women aren’t

There's a good news/bad news situation for women in the workforce: Although female workers are earning more than their moms ever did, they're still not outpacing what their dads brought home.

Male workers, meanwhile, are out-earning both what their mothers and fathers earned, according to new research from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The study, which looked at so-called intergeneration mobility, considered women who were mothers in the late 1960s and early 1970s and their daughters, who were about 40-years-old in the 2000s, to compare earnings power between the two generations.

The point -- which is unlikely to shock any woman in the workforce today -- is that while female workers have made significant socioeconomic gains over the last several decades, they still lag men. That's no shocker given the stubborn pay gap that still exists, with women earning just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Some big changes have taken place, however. Forty years ago, only about half of mothers worked, putting in an average of 24 hours a week and making about $10 per hour. Now, about 85 percent of their daughters are in the workforce and earn about $19 per hour, putting in 34 hours a week.

But the daughters' achievements have only gone so far.

"Despite daughters' wage gains, at every rung of the economic ladder they still earn a lower hourly wage than did fathers on the same rung more than 30 years ago," the Pew study notes.

By comparison, sons' hourly wages were about $5 more than their fathers, the report found.

What's driving that gap? Women are more likely to either take time off or scale back their hours when they start a family, Pew notes. But women also tend to work in lower-wage professions, such as child care and in hospitality. Gendered segregation of occupations hasn't improved for decades.

One interesting factoid highlighted by the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell, who asked Pew to run some numbers for her, was that daughters who grew up in homes where their moms didn't work are pulling in the highest family incomes today. But the reason is a strike for equality in the workplace: These women have higher household income because they married men who earn more, Rampell writes.

And as for the idea that any American can climb the economic ladder? Well, if you want to be rich, it helps to be born rich -- and male, the study found.

Almost half of males born to men in the top earnings bracket remained there four decades later. By comparison, only one-third of women whose mothers belonged to the top quintile are in the same earnings group today. Likewise, the poor are more likely to remain at the bottom.

"One-third of daughters raised by mothers earning the lowest wages remained at the bottom of the wage distribution, and almost two-thirds never made it to the middle," the study notes.

Still, with women's earnings increasingly important to family earnings, it's likely the issue of the wage gap will only become more of a pressing issue as time goes on.

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