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January 2020 Report 1084

Testing patch 732-20191021 Women in the labor force

Testing patch 732-20191021 Women in the labor force image

In 2018, 57.1 percent of all women participated in the labor force. This was about the same as the 57.0 percent who participated in 2017, and still about 3 percentage points below the peak of 60.0 percent in 1999. By comparison, the labor force participation rate for men was 69.1 percent in 2018, unchanged from the previous year and 17.5 percentage points below its peak of 86.6 percent in 1948.

The rapid rise in women’s labor force participation was a major development in the labor market during the second half of the 20th century.  Overall, women’s labor force participation increased dramatically from the 1960s through the 1980s, before slowing in the 1990s. With the dawn of the 21st century, labor force participation among women began a gradual decline, until the participation rate hit a recent low in 2015 at 56.7 percent.

Women’s involvement in the labor market has changed in several notable ways over the past several decades. For example, women became much more likely to pursue higher levels of education: from 1970 to 2018, the proportion of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force who held a college degree quadrupled, whereas the proportion of men with a college degree about doubled over that time. Women also have become more likely to work full time and year round. In addition, women’s earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings have grown over time: women working full time earned 62 percent of what men earned in 1979 and 81 percent in 2018.  More recently, women in the baby-boom generation (defined as people born between 1946 and 1964) have begun to retire in large numbers, which has put downward pressure on their labor force participation rate over the past decade or so.

This report presents historical and recent labor force and earnings data for women and men from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a national monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unless otherwise noted, data are annual averages from the CPS. (For a detailed description of the source of the data and an explanation of concepts and definitions used, see the technical notes at the end of this report.)

Selected demographic characteristics

Women’s labor force participation was 57.1 percent in 2018, little changed from 57.0 percent in 2017. Men’s labor force participation, which always has been much higher than that for women, was 69.1 percent in 2018, unchanged from the previous year. (See table 2.)

In 2018, the unemployment rate for women was 3.8 percent, down 0.5 percentage point from a year earlier. The rate for men was 3.9 percent in 2018, also down 0.5 percentage point from a year earlier. Women’s unemployment rates varied considerably by race and ethnicity. In 2018, Asian women had the lowest rate (3.0 percent), followed by White women (3.4 percent). Unemployment rates for Hispanic or Latino women and Black or African American women were much higher, at 5.1 percent and 6.0 percent, respectively. Men’s unemployment rates exhibit a similar pattern. The rates for Asian men (3.0 percent) and White men (3.5 percent) were well below the figures for Hispanic or Latino men (4.3 percent) and Black or African American men (7.0 percent). (See tables 2 and 3.)

Labor force participation varies by marital status and differs between women and men. Never-married women had the highest participation rate of all women at 64.5 percent in 2018. Separated and divorced women were more likely to participate in the labor force (62.7 percent and 61.2 percent, respectively) than married women (58.2 percent). By contrast, married men were more likely to participate in the labor force (73.1 percent) than separated men (70.2 percent), never-married men (67.7 percent), and divorced men (64.4 percent). Among women and men who were widowed, the labor participation rates were 19.5 percent and 24.0 percent, respectively. (See table 4.)

The labor force participation rate of all women with children under 18 years of age was 71.4 percent in March 2018, about unchanged (71.3 percent) from 2017. Among mothers, the labor force participation rate for those with children 6 to 17 years old, at 76.5 percent in March 2018, was higher than for those with younger children. The rate for those with children under 6 years old was 64.7 percent, and the rate for women with children under 3 years old was 62.0 percent. (See tables 5 and 7; data were collected in the 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the CPS.)

Unmarried mothers are more likely to participate in the labor force than married mothers. In March 2018, 77.3 percent of unmarried mothers were in the labor force, compared with 69.0 percent of married mothers. (See table 6; data were collected in the 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the CPS.)

Educational attainment

The educational attainment of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force has risen substantially over the past half century. In 2018, 44 percent of women ages 25 to 64 held a bachelor’s degree and higher, compared with 11 percent in 1970. In 2018, 6 percent of women in the labor force had less than a high school diploma—that is, did not graduate from high school or earn a GED—down from 34 percent in 1970. (See tables 9A and 9B.)

Occupation and industry

Women accounted for 52 percent of all workers employed in management, professional, and related occupations in 2018, somewhat more than their share of total employment (47 percent). The share of women in specific occupations within this large category varied. For example, 19 percent of software developers, 27 percent of chief executives, and 37 percent of lawyers were women, whereas 89 percent of registered nurses, 80 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, and 61 percent of accountants and auditors were women. (See table 11.)

In 2018, Asian and White women were more likely to work in higher paying management, professional, and related occupations (53 percent and 45 percent, respectively) than were Black (36 percent) and Hispanic women (27 percent). Meanwhile, Hispanic (31 percent) and Black women (28 percent) were more likely than Asian and White women (21 percent and 20 percent, respectively) to work in lower paying service occupations. (See table 12.)

Women accounted for more than half of all workers within several industry sectors in 2018: financial activities (53 percent), education and health services (74 percent), leisure and hospitality (52 percent), and other services (54 percent). (Other services includes repair and maintenance industries; personal and laundry services; membership associations and organizations; and private households.) However, women were substantially underrepresented (relative to their share of total employment) in agriculture (26 percent), mining (14 percent), construction (10 percent), manufacturing (29 percent), and transportation and utilities (24 percent). (See table 14.)

Statistical Tables

Table 1. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population, by age and gender, 2018 annual averages (Numbers in thousands)
Age Civilian noninstitutional population Civilian labor force Not in labor force
Total Percentage of population Employed Unemployed
Total Percentage of population Total Percentage of labor force

Total

16 years and older

257,791 162,075 62.9 155,761 60.4 6,314 3.9 95,716

16 to 19 years

16,765 5,885 35.1 5,126 30.6 759 12.9 10,879

16 to 17 years

8,917 2,133 23.9 1,838 20.6 295 13.8 6,784

18 to 19 years

7,848 3,753 47.8 3,289 41.9 464 12.4 4,095

20 to 24 years

21,239 15,099 71.1 14,051 66.2 1,048 6.9 6,140

25 to 54 years

126,390 103,705 82.1 100,314 79.4 3,391 3.3 22,685

25 to 34 years

44,581 36,774 82.5 35,324 79.2 1,450 3.9 7,807

25 to 29 years

22,948 18,893 82.3 18,073 78.8 820 4.3 4,054

30 to 34 years

21,633 17,881 82.7 17,251 79.7 630 3.5 3,752

35 to 44 years

40,569 33,619 82.9 32,616 80.4 1,003 3.0 6,950

35 to 39 years

21,143 17,491 82.7 16,947 80.2 544 3.1 3,653

40 to 44 years

19,426 16,129 83.0 15,670 80.7 459 2.8 3,297

45 to 54 years

41,240 33,311 80.8 32,373 78.5 938 2.8 7,929

45 to 49 years

20,504 16,873 82.3 16,412 80.0 461 2.7 3,631

50 to 54 years

20,736 16,438 79.3 15,961 77.0 477 2.9 4,298

55 to 64 years

42,114 27,354 65.0 26,565 63.1 789 2.9 14,760

55 to 59 years

21,677 15,679 72.3 15,226 70.2 453 2.9 5,998

60 to 64 years

20,437 11,675 57.1 11,339 55.5 336 2.9 8,762

65 years and older

51,283 10,032 19.6 9,705 18.9 327 3.3 41,251

65 to 69 years

16,961 5,592 33.0 5,417 31.9 175 3.1 11,369

70 to 74 years

13,393 2,615 19.5 2,525 18.9 90 3.4 10,778

75 years and older

20,929 1,826 8.7 1,764 8.4 62 3.4 19,103

Women

16 years and older

133,112 75,978 57.1 73,063 54.9 2,916 3.8 57,134

16 to 19 years

8,272 2,977 36.0 2,639 31.9 338 11.3 5,295

16 to 17 years

4,390 1,130 25.7 991 22.6 139 12.3 3,260

18 to 19 years

3,882 1,847 47.6 1,648 42.5 198 10.7 2,035

20 to 24 years

10,600 7,312 69.0 6,861 64.7 452 6.2 3,288

25 to 54 years

64,096 48,264 75.3 46,641 72.8 1,623 3.4 15,831

25 to 34 years

22,376 16,985 75.9 16,298 72.8 687 4.0 5,391

25 to 29 years

11,476 8,825 76.9 8,433 73.5 392 4.4 2,651

30 to 34 years

10,900 8,160 74.9 7,865 72.2 295 3.6 2,740

35 to 44 years

20,637 15,497 75.1 15,008 72.7 488 3.2 5,140

35 to 39 years

10,730 8,009 74.6 7,751 72.2 258 3.2 2,721

40 to 44 years

9,907 7,488 75.6 7,258 73.3 230 3.1 2,419

45 to 54 years

21,083 15,783 74.9 15,335 72.7 448 2.8 5,300

45 to 49 years

10,474 7,981 76.2 7,756 74.1 225 2.8 2,493

50 to 54 years

10,608 7,801 73.5 7,579 71.4 223 2.9 2,807

55 to 64 years

21,851 12,918 59.1 12,564 57.5 354 2.7 8,933

55 to 59 years

11,158 7,380 66.1 7,175 64.3 205 2.8 3,778

60 to 64 years

10,692 5,538 51.8 5,389 50.4 149 2.7 5,155

65 years and older

28,295 4,508 15.9 4,358 15.4 150 3.3 23,787

65 to 69 years

8,995 2,598 28.9 2,514 27.9 85 3.3 6,397

70 to 74 years

7,194 1,137 15.8 1,098 15.3 39 3.4 6,057

75 years and older

12,105 772 6.4 746 6.2 26 3.4 11,333

Men

16 years and older

124,678 86,096 69.1 82,698 66.3 3,398 3.9 38,582

16 to 19 years

8,493 2,909 34.2 2,487 29.3 422 14.5 5,585

16 to 17 years

4,527 1,003 22.1 847 18.7 156 15.5 3,524

18 to 19 years

3,967 1,906 48.1 1,640 41.4 266 13.9 2,061

20 to 24 years

10,639 7,786 73.2 7,190 67.6 596 7.7 2,853

25 to 54 years

62,294 55,440 89.0 53,673 86.2 1,768 3.2 6,854

25 to 34 years

22,205 19,789 89.1 19,027 85.7 763 3.9 2,416

25 to 29 years

11,472 10,069 87.8 9,640 84.0 428 4.3 1,403

30 to 34 years

10,733 9,721 90.6 9,386 87.4 335 3.4 1,013

35 to 44 years

19,933 18,123 90.9 17,608 88.3 515 2.8 1,810

35 to 39 years

10,413 9,482 91.1 9,196 88.3 285 3.0 932

40 to 44 years

9,519 8,641 90.8 8,412 88.4 229 2.7 878

45 to 54 years

20,157 17,528 87.0 17,038 84.5 490 2.8 2,629

45 to 49 years

10,029 8,892 88.7 8,655 86.3 236 2.7 1,137

50 to 54 years

10,128 8,637 85.3 8,383 82.8 254 2.9 1,491

55 to 64 years

20,263 14,436 71.2 14,001 69.1 435 3.0 5,827

55 to 59 years

10,519 8,299 78.9 8,051 76.5 248 3.0 2,220

60 to 64 years

9,744 6,137 63.0 5,950 61.1 187 3.0 3,607

65 years and older

22,988 5,525 24.0 5,348 23.3 177 3.2 17,464

65 to 69 years

7,966 2,993 37.6 2,903 36.4 90 3.0 4,972

70 to 74 years

6,199 1,478 23.8 1,427 23.0 51 3.4 4,721

75 years and older

8,824 1,054 11.9 1,018 11.5 36 3.4 7,770

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

 

Technical Notes

The estimates in this report were obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a national monthly sample survey of approximately 60,000 eligible households that provides a wide range of information on the labor force, employment, and unemployment. The survey is conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by the U.S. Census Bureau, using a scientifically selected national sample with coverage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Information in this report will be made available upon request to individuals with sensory impairments. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200. Federal Relay Service: 1-800-877-8339. Material in this report is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

Percentage:The formula for the percentage of employees with a given characteristic out of all employees in the domain is


Average (mean) The formula for the average value of a quantity for a characteristic is