Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Janet Gornick

Committee Members

Mary Clare Lennon

Paul Attewell

Leslie McCall

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Work, Economy and Organizations


Gender, Inequality, Earnings Gap, Lifetime, Generations


Prior studies have illuminated various aspects of gender inequality, particularly of earnings inequality. However, data limitations and scholarly conventions have led to most conclusions being drawn from cross-sectional data based on average gender earnings inequality patterns, which have been limited in their ability to support causal claims related to policy interventions and to address the intersection of inequalities understood as a long-term process. My dissertation fills this intellectual gap by analyzing gender inequality as a cumulative long-term process that unfolds over the life course. It consists of three empirical chapters. In the first chapter, I combine class and gender inequality analyses to explain how varying socioeconomic environments have impacted gender earnings inequality across socioeconomic strata. Specifically, I ask how and why gender earnings inequality changed since the 1970s for women in different socioeconomic strata in countries experiencing a surge in income inequality. Conversely, in countries that experienced decreasing income inequality in the 2000s, I ask whether this was translated into overall greater gender earnings equality. In the second chapter, I analyze a 15-year panel for six countries to investigate how different policy configurations shape long-run gender earnings inequality net of individual and country stable characteristics. Past studies have mainly relied on two—often disconnected—approaches to explain cross-national variation in gender inequality. On one hand, the institutional approach stresses the primacy of varying policy configurations across countries in accounting for gender inequality. On the other, the cultural approach highlights the importance of cultural differences in explaining not only cross-national variation in gender outcomes, but in policy configurations to begin with. I propose a methodological approach to combine both approaches and provide stronger insights into how specific policies shape gender inequalities in earnings and work commitment. In the last chapter, I investigate how lifetime gender earnings inequality has evolved in the United States across five generations born between 1930 and 1979. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) from 1968 to 2017 and decomposition techniques, I examine how the gender earnings gap varies throughout the lifecycle; what factors explain the lifetime earnings gap; and if and how these factors have changed across generations. Long-term gender inequality dramatically shapes individual, familial, and societal inequality. By understanding the mechanisms that perpetuate long-term gender inequality, these chapters combined not only place “lifetime” as an essential object of sociological analysis, they also provide important insights into the strategies that must be taken to promote gender equality in the long-run, both within and across generations.

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