“As the 90s dawned things were looking up for women. Daughters of second-wave feminism came of age and chose new paths unavailable to their mothers: delaying marriage and children, pursuing higher education, joining the workforce, and assuming independence and identities outside of the home. The gaps between men and women in education “have essentially disappeared for the younger generation,” declared a 1995 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. The equal education promise of Title IX was coming to fruition.
For more than a century, the median marriage age for women swung between 20 and 22, but in 1990, it nearly jumped to 24. By 1997 it reached 25. Postponing marriage and kids liberated women sexually; it also gave them increased economic power and paved their entry into male-dominated careers. Almost half of married women surveyed in 1995 reported earning half or more of their total family income, leading the study’s sponsor to declare, “Women are the new providers.”
The forward motion of the 90s seemed to build on the 80s, a decade of hallowed female pioneers in diverse fields. Sally Ride traveled to space. Geraldine Ferraro secured the vice presidential nomination of a major political party. Alice Walker and Toni Morrison won Pulitzer Prizes for their epic, women-centered fiction. Madonna smashed barriers in music, entertainment and popular culture. Because these firsts and many others were so widely celebrated, society assumed these trailblazing women would also cut a path for all women to advance in work, entertainment, politics and culture in the years to come. At last, the dream of gender equality would be realized.
The dream, as we know, was not realized. But a quick glance back at the 90s would suggest that American women indeed made significant progress during the decade. In Janet Reno, Madeleine Albright, Judith Rodin and Carly Fiorina, the 90s saw the first woman attorney general, secretary of state, president of an Ivy League institution (University of Pennsylvania), and CEO of a Fortune 100 company (Hewlett-Packard). More women won political office than ever before in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, when their numbers in the Senate tripled (from a measly two to a small but more respectable six).”
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