Until things slowly changed during the last century, women’s participation in the labor force was limited by traditional cultural, educational, and legal practices. Women’s work outside of home and marriage was restricted to a handful of occupations such as domestic service, factory work, farm work, and teaching.
Over the past several decades, the women’s labor force in the United States and throughout the world has experienced many changes. Women’s labor force participation rates are significantly higher today than they were in the 1970s. Throughout that period, women have increasingly attained higher levels of education and experienced an increase in their earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings.
In addition to highlighting the past, present, and future of women in the workforce, this Spotlight presents BLS data on the types of activities that women spend their time doing during an average week, how they choose to spend their hard-earned money, and the nature of fatal injuries in the workplace.
Educational Attainment of Young Women
In the October when they were 23 years old, 23.4 percent of young women held a bachelor’s degree (or higher), compared with 14.3 percent of young men. Overall, young women were more likely to have graduated from high school and to have attended college. Once enrolled in college, women were less likely than men to leave college between school years without graduating.
Women’s Earnings and Employment by Education
The number of women employed, and the wages they earn, vary by occupation. In 2009, the 903,000 women employed as cashiers earned, at the median, $361 per week, while the 92,000 women working as pharmacists had median weekly earnings of $1,475. Nearly 2 million women worked as elementary and middle school teachers, and a similar number worked as registered nurses; the median weekly earnings for women in these two occupations were $891 and $1,035, respectively. (Median wages are the midpoint of an arrangement of earnings from lowest to highest; in any given group, half the workers earn less—and half earn more—than the median wage.)
Read more from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Spotlight: Women at Work »