In many prehistoric cultures, women assumed a particular cultural role. In gatherer-hunter societies, women were generally the gatherers of plant foods, small animal foods and fish, while men hunted meat from large animals.

In more recent history, the gender roles of women have changed greatly. Traditionally, middle class women were involved in domestic tasks emphasizing child care. For poorer women, especially working class women, although this often remained an ideal,[specify] economic necessity compelled them to seek employment outside the home. The occupations that were available to them were, however, lower in pay than those available to men.

As changes in the labor market for women came about, availability of employment changed from only “dirty”, long hour factory jobs to “cleaner”, more respectable office jobs where more education was demanded, women’s participation in the U.S. labor force rose from 6% in 1900 to 23% in 1923. These shifts in the labor force led to changes in the attitudes of women at work, allowing for the revolution which resulted in women becoming career and education oriented.

Movements advocate equality of opportunity for both sexes and equal rights irrespective of gender. Through a combination of economic changes and the efforts of the feminist movement,[specify] in recent decades women in most societies now have access to careers beyond the traditional homemaker.

Although a greater number of women are seeking higher education, salaries are often claimed to be less than those of men. CBS News claims that in the United States women who are ages 30 to 44 and hold a university degree make only 62 percent of what similarly qualified men do, a lower rate than in all but three of the 19 countries for which numbers are available. The nations with greater inequity in pay are Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland.[18] However, “A study of the gender wage gap conducted by economist June O’ Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that women earn 98 percent of what men do when controlled for experience, education, and number of years on the job.”[19] A later CBS News article quoted a U.S. Department of Labor study which stated “This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”[20] In 2011, A Wall Street Journal article by Carrie Lukas stated that: “A study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that women earned 8% more than men.