Women Now Outnumber Men in the American Workforce

Women now outnumber men in the American workforce for the first time since the Great Recession ended a decade ago. According to a new IMF study, male labour has declined globally as female participation in the labour force has increased.

The “Employment Situation Summary”, data released from the US Labor Department, reveals that there were “notable job gains” in growing industries that hire more women, such as retail trade and healthcare, while industries that hire more men, such as mining and manufacturing, are shrinking.

The ESS shows that, last month, women in the US held 50.04% jobs. They also gained 139,000 jobs while men only gained 6,000 jobs within the same period. This can be attributed to advances in technology which has increased the need for labour in service jobs, but decreased the need for jobs that require manpower. Technological advancements, for example, have ushered the rise of automation in manufacturing, construction and other male-dominated industries.

Julia Pollack, labour economist at American labour firm, ZipRecruiter, argues that technological advancements have given a “boost” to women, opening up jobs that were previously male-dominated.

“The sectors that are growing, like education and health care, are predominantly women’s employment,” Ariane Hegewisch, the program director of employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told The Wall Street Journal.

“Looking at the 21st century, it is really amazing how profound some of the [sex] segregation is in the labor market.”

“It’s a milestone because it’s really heralding the future and not just telling us where we are today,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan and an Obama administration economic adviser.

“As women get into more senior positions, it creates more space to hire more women and brings more equality into management decisions,” Stevenson continued. “It’s one of those things that’s self-reinforcing and keeps on going.”

The last decade has seen major shifts in labour force participation in ‘advanced’ economies. These changes will affect the global economy in the next century.

“Participation has increased among prime-age women and, more recently, older workers, but it has fallen among the young and among prime-age men,” the IMF study recounts.

The study accredits these shifts in part to an increasingly ageing population, and the after-effects of the global financial crisis. The global financial crisis, for example, increased the share of two-income households as families now struggle to survive on a single-income salary.

The report also accredits these labour changes to: “labour market policies and institutions [working] together with structural changes and gains in educational attainment”.

The United Nations has predicted that the rising ageing population in ‘advanced’ economies, combined with slowing population growth will shrink total population growth in half by the middle of this century.

“The burden will fall on those currently considered to be of working age, who in a few decades will support close to double the number of elderly people they do now. Unless more people participate in labour markets, ageing could slow advanced economies’ growth and, in many cases, undermine the sustainability of their social security systems,” the IMF study states.

Furthermore, technological advancements have the potential for economic division in the future.

“Technological progress that enabled routine jobs to be automated may have reduced the demand for less-skilled labour in advanced economies and made certain jobs obsolete,” the study continues.

“While these global developments benefit the economy as a whole, and create new opportunities in other sectors, workers may be unable to take advantage of these opportunities due to lack of relevant skills and training, preferences, hardship involved in relocating geographically, or an inadequate return compared with their previous earnings.”

Labour changes are a challenge for global geopolitics and economics. Increased sex equality in labour markets are a celebratory milestone, but rising nationalism and xenophobic border closures in ‘advanced’ economies are not sustainable under this new labour system. The input of immigrants in increasing population growth, boosting the economy, and taking care of the older generations out of the workforce is indispensable.

Economists and policymakers must keep abreast of a rapidly changing labour market to ensure equality in all spheres of society.