By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The pay gap between U.S. men and women is closing but younger women face lingering uncertainty about their future earning power, research released on Wednesday showed.
Increased college attendance is helping to boost wages for women of the so-called "Millennial" generation, who say they are more career-driven than their male counterparts, the Pew Research Center said in a report.
That, combined with lower wages and fewer college degrees for young men, has narrowed the divide, it said.
"Today's young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men," researchers at the nonpartisan research group wrote in its report, based in part on a review of economic data as well a recent survey.
Their analysis found women aged 25 to 34 made about 93 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2012, the report said. That is better than the rate for women of all ages, who overall made 84 cents in the dollar compared to male workers.
In that age group, more women had a bachelor's degree or were enrolled in college than their male counterparts.
But despite their increased earning power, the latest wave of U.S. adult women are just as likely as previous generations to fear a decline in future income as they age, in part due to disruptions caused by having a family.
In a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, including nearly 1,000 Millennials, or those born after 1980, Pew found both men and women saw barriers ahead.
So-called "Millennials," young adults aged roughly 18 to 32, have come of age during a particularly volatile period of the economy, from the tech bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s to the 2007-2009 recession.
Young women in particular said they were worried about the demands of parenthood affecting their work. Nearly 60 percent of Millennial mothers who have worked said that becoming a parent made it harder to advance their careers, compared to 19 percent of young working fathers, the telephone survey found.
This feeling was not limited only to women with children. Survey respondents reported seeing general workplace inequities, such as disparities in hiring and advancement, even if they themselves have not suffered any outright discrimination, Pew said.
"They still see that the playing field is not exactly level," Kim Parker, who oversees social trends research for Pew, told Reuters.
Seventy-five percent of Millennial women said more policy changes were needed to improve workplace equality compared with 57 percent of young men, the survey showed. The poll, conducted in October, has a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points.
Other recent data has shown that by the time U.S. women reach their mid-30s, their earnings begin to fall further behind, researchers said.
"Most Millennial women aren't there yet," researchers said. "But when they do have young children at home, their level of participation in the labor force is likely to decline."
Despite the perceived gender gaps, however, Millennials may find, like previous generations, the trade-off is worth it.
Among adults of all ages, 94 percent said they were glad they reduced their work hours or even took a break from their careers to tend to their families, the report said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Krista Hughes)