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Women Overtake Men as Majority of U.S. Workforce

Amara Omeokwe


WASHINGTON—Women held more U.S. jobs than men in December for the first time in nearly a decade, a development that likely reflects the future of the American workforce.

The share of women on payrolls, excluding farmworkers and the self-employed, exceeded the share of men in December for the first time since mid-2010, Labor Department data released Friday showed. Women held 50.04% of jobs last month, surpassing men on payrolls by 109,000.

“The [jobs] report strongly suggests that the labor market dynamics are tilting in the direction of women,” Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US, said in a note to clients. “We all often look for tangible evidence of change. It is now here in the data and can be used as a benchmark to measure equality and inequality in the labor force and the economy.”

The gap between men and women on payrolls had been narrowing over recent years, reflecting growth in services industries that employ higher numbers of women, such as health care.

“The sectors that are growing, like education and health care, are predominantly women’s employment,” said Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Looking at the 21st century, it is really amazing how profound some of the [sex] segregation is in the labor market.”

In December, the education and health-services sector added 36,000 jobs compared with the prior month. Both of those industries are predominantly female. Meanwhile, the mining and manufacturing industries, dominated by men, lost a combined 21,000 jobs.

The last time women outnumbered men on nonfarm payrolls was during a stretch between June 2009 and April 2010. But different circumstances drove the trend at that time because the construction and manufacturing sectors were disproportionately shedding jobs, according to Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“You had two large sectors of the economy that were very badly hit by the recession, whereas right now we would think of it as being a pretty normal economy,” Mr. Baker said.

Friday’s data showed women surpassed men in the number of payroll jobs held in December. A different Labor Department survey shows men still account for a larger share of the U.S. labor force—comprised of people who are employed or looking for work. Beyond methodological differences between the two surveys, men are more likely to hold jobs not counted on payrolls, including the self-employed and farm laborers. And women are more likely to hold more than one job. A single person can be counted twice in the payroll data, but only once in population surveys. 

A gap in the labor-force participation rate persists between men and women. The labor-force participation rate in December was 57.7% for women aged 16 and up, compared with 69.2% for men aged 16 and up.

Read More 

    Gender Equity/Diversity
    Pay Gap/Parity Issues

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