Over the past 4 decades, women have made notable changes in their labor force activities. Labor force participation is significantly higher among women today than it was in the 1970s, particularly among women with children, and larger shares of women are working full time and year round. In addition, women have increasingly attained higher levels of education: among women ages 25 to 64 who are in the labor force, the proportion with a college degree roughly tripled from 1970 to 2011. Women’s earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings also have grown over time. In 1979, women working full time earned 62 percent of what men did; in 2011, women’s earnings were 82 percent of men’s.
This report presents historical and current labor force and earnings data for women and men from the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a national monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Women’s labor force participation rate peaked at 60.0 percent in 1999, following several decades in which women increasingly entered the labor market. In 2011, 58.1 percent of women were in the labor force, down 0.5 percentage point from 2010.
The educational attainment of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force has risen substantially over the past 40 years. In 2011, 37 percent of these women held college degrees, compared with 11 percent in 1970. About 7 percent of women had less than a high school diploma (that is, did not graduate high school) in 2011, down from 34 percent in 1970.
In 2011, women accounted for 51 percent of all persons employed in management, professional, and related occupations, somewhat more than their share of total employment (47 percent). The share of women in specific occupations within this large category varied. For example, 14 percent of architects and engineers and 34 percent of physicians and surgeons were women, whereas 61 percent of accountants and auditors and 82 percent of elementary and middle school teachers were women.
Women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $684 in 2011. This represented 82 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($832). Among women, earnings were higher for Asians ($751) and Whites ($703) than for Blacks ($595) and Hispanics ($518). Women’s-to-men’s earnings ratios were higher for Blacks and Hispanics (both 91 percent) than for Whites (82 percent) and Asians (77 percent). Users should note that the comparisons of earnings in this report are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that may be significant in explaining earnings differences.
In 2011, 27 percent of employed women usually worked part time—that is, fewer than 35 hours per week. In comparison, 11 percent of employed men usually worked part time.
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