Women and Credit Through the Decades: The ’90s

In the ’90s, women’s participation in the workplace increased, and so did their salaries.

Erin El IssaOctober 16, 2014
Women and Credit Through the Decades: The ’90s

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In this series, we examine the financial progress women in the United States have made since the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974, decade by decade. This installment — the third of five — looks at progress in the 1990s, the decade in which third-wave feminism began.

Women and finance: Strides in the workplace

By the end of the 1990s, women’s participation in the workforce grew to 60% — while men’s participation shrank to 74.7% — according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Women’s income continued to rise in relation to men’s income, moving up to 72.7 cents on the dollar. While it’s great that women’s wages rose steadily during the ’80s and ’90s, it’s less uplifting that today’s woman in the workforce earns roughly 78 cents to the dollar a man makes. (The exact number varies by state, from 66 to 91 cents; 78 cents is the country’s average.) In the 15 years since 1999, we’ve only gained 5.3 cents.

Speaking of the workforce, in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act made it illegal for women to be ejected from it for going on medical leave for pregnancy. Today, maternity and paternity leave remains unpaid, but the FMLA required employers to hold employees’ jobs for up to 12 weeks until they returned from leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Such reasons include pregnancy, adoption and foster care placement.

In order to show the next generation of women their career potential, Take Our Daughters to Work Day was created in 1992 and celebrated for the first time in 1993. It was founded by the Ms. Foundation for Women and its president, Marie Wilson, with help from famed feminist Gloria Steinem. It has since been renamed as Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

Women and finance: Strides in political power

Women also made great strides in politics in the ’90s. The year 1992 — also known as “The Year of the Woman” — saw the election of four women to the Senate — Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Carol Moseley Braun (the first black woman elected to the Senate) and Patty Murray. A year later, Janet Reno became the first woman to serve as United States attorney general.

Women and finance: Pop culture

While pop culture in the 1970s and 1980s featured middle-aged women who had to do “men’s work” in order to feed themselves and their children, the shows of the ’90s hit a different demographic: girls. With shows like "Clarissa Explains It All," "Pepper Ann" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," pop culture began to focus on intelligent, outspoken feminists-in-the-making.

"Clarissa Explains It All" — focusing on Clarissa Darling, a sarcastic teen computer-game programmer — helped debunk the myth that boys would never enjoy a TV show with a female protagonist. Pepper Ann’s eponymous character was a sporty, independent 12-year-old with a feminist mother who brought her to a women’s weekend to learn that women are as capable as men. And Buffy and her crew of strong female friends showed us that you don’t have to leave the “girl” label behind to be strong, smart and independent. And no, this isn’t an exhaustive list of ’90s television shows with awesome girls — you don’t have to do much digging to find positive female role models in ’90s pop culture.

What these leading ladies did for us as a society is this: They showed the next generation of women that being a girl means whatever they want it to mean. Girls who grew up in the ’90s weren’t told they should exclusively be teachers, nurses or moms — they knew that every career opportunity was theirs for the taking.

Main takeaways:

  • In the ’90s, women’s participation in the workplace increased, and so did their salaries.

  • The FMLA was passed in 1992, making employers hold jobs while employees took unpaid leave for family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption or foster care placement.

  • Take Our Daughters to Work Day was celebrated for the first time in 1993.

  • Women made great political strides in the ’90s, with four women elected to the Senate in one year and the first woman appointed to the role of United States attorney Ggeneral.

  • Pop culture in the ’90s featured the next generation of women — teen and tween girls who were smart, capable and ambitious. It showed young girls across America that they could be whatever they wanted to be.

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