How Women in the Workforce Are Changing America

Women earn eighty cents to the dollar compared to men within occupations, according Bureau of Labor Statistics' Women at Work report. But in some industries like food preparation, table service, stock clerks and bill collectors, they out-earn their male counterparts. Here's the authoritative chart from the BLS:

ratio of womens earnings mens.png
The entire report is chock full of illuminating graphs. For example, in the last 50 years, the labor force has doubled from 75 million in the 1960s to 150 million. Women's employment, however, has more than tripled, from under 20 million to just over 60 million...

employment women by industry over time.png
... what more, the educational attainment of the female workforce has dramatically increased. In 1970, when women accounted for less than a third of employment, one out of three women entered the labor force with less than a high school diploma. Today, only one of out fifteen women in the civilian labor force have less than a high school education, and two thirds have at least some college experience.

education attainment women labor force.png
It's fair to say that the emergence of the educated female worker is one of the great accomplishments of the last half of the 20th century. In 1970, women accounted for 36 percent of college graduates. Today they account for the majority.

This is an unalloyed positive, but it comes with disruptive socioeconomic consequences. College educated women tend to marry later, have fewer children, and are less likely to view marriage as "financial security," according to a 2010 Wharton study [PDF]. Dual earner households find it harder to move when one partner loses a job because moving first requires both partners to find new jobs. The upshot:  Families are getting smaller, first-time parents are getting older, and domestic migration is meeting new challenges.

Hand-wringing demographers often ask questions like, Why are 20somethings holding off on financial independence, and why are middle class families getting smaller, and why are parents getting older, and why aren't we seeing a more fluid workforce? These are complicated questions with complicated answers. But the graphs above begin to tell a compelling story. You can't explain delayed marriages and older mothers without talking about women and college.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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