Published on January 24, 2020
Decades of data show the rise of women in the workforce, particularly in the government and service-based industries, which provide more jobs than male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction. The data since the mid-2010s also shows there is a growing share of women participating in the labor force, while the share of men in the labor force has stagnated.
An estimated 76,246,000 women were on payrolls in December—that’s 109,000 more women than men. Another way to look at it: Women are 50.04% of all those on payrolls.
The last time women were the majority of such employees occurred during the Great Recession. Between June 2009 and April 2010, women were also the majority of payroll workers. That majority decreased in the years after the recession. Women made up 49.3% of payroll employees in August 2014, the low for the last decade.
Between August 2014 and December 2019, the number of jobs increased in both goods-producing industries, such as manufacturing and service-providing industries, such as retail and healthcare. However, service-providing industries added more than ten times the number of jobs as goods-producing industries. This increase in service-providing industries, which tend to employ more women than men, propelled women to the majority share of employment.
At the end of 2019, women made up 22.5% of all payrolls in goods-producing industries, an increase of less than a percentage point since 2014. Those industries gained 1.2 million jobs since August 2014.
In December 2019, women made up 54.5% of all employees in service-providing industries, which is down less than a percentage point since 2014. That sector increased by 11.2 million jobs since August 2014.
The labor participation rate measures what percentage of the working-age population is willing and/or able to work. This metric has always been lower for women than men. While the 57.7% women’s labor participation rate in the final quarter of 2019 was lower than the high of 60.1% in the second quarter of 2000, it has increased from 56.8% in the third quarter of 2014.
Meanwhile, the labor participation rate for men declined. Back in 2009, about 72% of men participated in the workforce. Since 2013, the rate has fallen and fluctuates between 69% and 70%.
While men continue to have a higher labor force participation rate than women, a few other factors may explain why women have overtaken men in terms of employment. In the final quarter of 2019, BLS estimated 134.2 million women to be eligible in their labor force count compared with 125.8 million men.
In that same quarter, there were an estimated 5.4 million self-employed male nonfarm workers, compared with 3.5 million women. None of those people are counted in the payroll numbers.
Looking at BLS workforce numbers is a good starting point for understanding the employment differences between men and women. While the data shows how labor participation for women and men are going in opposite directions, it also shows how the American economy is adding jobs in industries that employ more women than men.
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