It’s Women’s history Month in the joined States. What far better time to talk about a key economic dynamic that both reflects and also contributes come women’s changing role in American culture than their developments in the workplace? specifics how has women’s labor force participation rate—the percentage of women engaged in the formal labor market by gift employed or in search of work—changed end time? It’s vital issue. Once women join the job force, economic situations tend to flourish more. Indeed, there is a far-ranging relationship between a country’s every capita Gross domestic Product and also women’s labor force participation rate. (See figure 1.)

Figure 1


For women in the united States, labor pressure participation rates have actually not followed a straight path. It has been a facility narrative, deeply affected by women’s household roles, through discrimination, through the changing economy, by technological change, and by their own choices. And also it is a proceeding story, through surprising twists the economists proceed to explore.

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In a sense, this story begins with its an initial twist, in the 18th and also 19th centuries. To be clear, this is a twist for us today, not for those who skilled it. Native our modern-day perspective, we could assume that significant participation by females in the workforce was virtually nonexistent till it started rising gradually in the 20th century. We would certainly be wrong. A variety of economists, and also especially Claudia Goldin of Harvard University, have shown that women in the 18th and also 19th centuries played a considerably an ext important duty in the economy than we might have thought. They were vital to their families’ financial well-being and also their neighborhood economies, no in their rearing of youngsters or taking care of family members responsibilities however by their energetic participation in growing and also making the products that families bartered or marketed for a living.

But eventually, together the production of goods became mechanized and moved outside of the home, women’s role in the market economic situation receded, and also their labor pressure participation dropped considerably to that is nadir near the finish of the 19th century. Gradually, start after 1890 and really much into the 20th century, women had a growing place in the workforce. This path—declining from a high point in vault centuries, before the manufacturing economy, and then rising as the economic situation and society change end time—graphs as a U-shaped curve. Among Goldin’s most far-ranging contributions to be to display that the U-shaped curve used to the advancement of economies worldwide, though, as Boston university economist Claudia Olivetti has actually shown, the dip is less significant for economic climates that began far-ranging development ~ 1950. (For an illustration that the an international nature the this phenomenon, check out this graph produced by the IZA institute of labor Economics.)

Goldin cites 4 periods after the nadir that women’s joining in the labor market, the first three of i m sorry she state evolutionary and the last one revolutionary. In the very first of these phases, indigenous the late 19th century to the 1920s, that was primarily poor, uneducated single women who gone into the workforce, regularly as piece workers in manufacturing or together employees in various other people’s homes. Married women greatly stayed home, and the solitary women who operated generally exited the workforce top top marriage. In the 1910s, us see more women functioning in teaching and in clerical positions, which began a duration of significant growth.

From the 1930s come the 1950s, Goldin’s 2nd phase, married women gone into the workforce in significant numbers, their price rising native 10 percent come 25 percent. She notes the while 8 percent the employed ladies in 1890 to be married, that figure rose come 26 percent in 1930 and also 47 percent by 1950. These rises were the an outcome of the rise of workplaces requiring clerical employees and new information technologies, together with tremendous growth in the number of women attending high college in the early 20th century. It’s worth noting that women’s workforce participation to be negatively influenced by your husbands’ income. The higher his income, the much less she would “need” to work exterior the home. However that began to readjust during this period.

In the following phase, according to Goldin, women’s labor pressure participation, moved by married women, climbed substantially. And it ongoing to become more common because that married females to continue working also as their husbands’ income rose. One reason that married women worked an ext was the growing accessibility of scheduled part-time employment. In addition, societal barriers, and in some case legal barriers, come married women continuing to job-related were dropping.

Finally came what Goldin phone call “the quiet revolution,” the period from the late 1970s up to the really early 21st century. In this era, women’s all at once labor pressure participation price rose yet not by all that much. What did happen, however, was that the percent of ladies of childbearing period with a kid under the age of 1 in the workplace climbed dramatically, from 20 percent to 62 percent. What Goldin refers to as the transformation are this changes: Young ladies in your late teens throughout the 1970s altered their “horizons” (their job expectations) so the they suspect long, constant careers that would certainly not be cut short by marriage and children. This development, in turn, urged them to invest an ext in their education, with boosting numbers going come college and also beyond, therefore preparing them because that careers that provided them status closer to males in the workplace.

At the exact same time, women began postponing marriage and childbearing. This was practically certainly, as displayed by Goldin and by the college of Michigan’s Martha Bailey and her co-authors, early in component to the development and farming popularity of the birth control pill, the dependable contraceptive that provided women more control over the timing of childbearing. The pill had actually the effects of both raising female labor force participation and also narrowing gender pay inequality. And women started to watch their lives and also their identities differently, v their skilled selves becoming as necessary as your families.

And climate something else happened. Beginning approximately 2000, the breakthroughs in women’s labor force participation stopped. The price flattened and then started to decline. To it is in sure, the decline is fairly small, a few percentage points, but it is real and it is unique among developed countries, follow to the organisation for economic Co-operation and Development. (See number 2.)

Figure 2


We tho don’t recognize the reasons for this reversal, yet we have some clues. Sandra black of the college of Texas in ~ Austin and also her co-authors keep in mind that men’s labor force participation rate has been decreasing for several decades. Until 2000, this brought about a significant, though not nearly complete, convergence in between women’s and also men’s labor pressure participation rates. Since 2000, however, the relative decline for women has actually actually outpaced the of men. Between 2000 and also 2016, prime-age women’s labor force participation fell by 4.2 percent, from 78 percent come 74 percent. During the very same period, prime-age men’s labor force participation dropped by 3.7 percent, native 91 percent come 88 percent. The decline in men’s labor force participation is a trend generally attributed to poor labor industry opportunities, specifically for low-skilled men. A question, therefore, is whether women’s rate started to decrease for the exact same reason. Some evidence points in the direction, however the story is no necessarily a straightforward demand-side tale.

As previously noted, this decrease in women’s labor pressure participation is no replicated in other OECD economies, where the rate proceeds to rise. Black and also her co-authors allude out the while the U.S. Labor sector is amongst the many flexible in its ability to accommodate transforms in modern technology and other determinants that readjust the nature the work, the is also among the the very least supportive in giving unemployment, job-search, and also training benefits the could help both men and women readjust to change.

Those researcher also point to the potential positive affect of implementing paid family leave and expanded accessibility to childcare top top prime-age women’s job participation rates. The is clean from recent research by Olivetti and also Barbara Petrongolo the the London institution of business economics that national household policies can have a far-ranging positive impact on women’s labor force participation. The researchers examined household policy across high-income western European countries, Canada, and also the joined States. What they found was that investments in childcare and also early childhood discovering had significant impacts top top women’s labor pressure participation. They also found a optimistic impact, though much less pronounced, for maternity leave policies of as much as 50 weeks. Interestingly, separate study finds that family policies that advantage only women can undermine their potential impact, as they might influence employers’ perspectives toward woman employees.

Unfortunately, what the OECD has also reported is that together of 2012, the United claims ranked 33rd the 36 countries in investing in early on childhood care and education, family member to as whole income. This country is also the only occurred country without a nationwide paid leave program.

Another promise area for legislation to assistance women’s ability to take part in the workforce is scheduling stability. Over the previous decade, researchers have recorded instability and unpredictability in the schedules of sleeve workers, and they are significantly showing that providing greater stability and also predictability because that schedules have the right to not only boost employer profits and also strengthen the economic situation but additionally improve the health of their workers.

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It seems clear the a adjust in direction because that U.S. Plans related to childcare and early education, along with a strong national paid leave policy for household leave could help to reverse the downward tendency of U.S. Women’s labor pressure participation and put it ago on the same route that many other arisen countries room on. We have seen that while the 20th century witnessed a restoration of women’s strong participation in the workforce, the 21st century has actually seen a disturbing reversal. Policymakers deserve to do something around this, and it would benefit families and the country economy.