Economic Find: Women in the Labor Force

After several decades of fairly steep increases, women’s participation in the labor market is leveling off.  As the chart below illustrates, between 1990 and 2005, the labor force participation of women (age 16-54) hovered at just less than 60%.  Single mothers, struggling to make ends meet, were the only group whose employment participation increased.

The chart also shows that men’s participation in the labor force has declined steadily since the 1950s.  Men may be taking on more responsibilities for childcare.  For men in high-income households, especially with partners earning a good salary, they may be opting out of the workforce altogether.

But most families need two income earners, and this comes with difficult tradeoffs.  Income from working in the job market can buy many important goods and services, but parents working full-time jobs know that money is not a perfect substitute for time, especially in caring for family members.




Based on the 2006 Field Guide to the U.S. Economy. “To Market, to Market…but Not So Fast.” 3.1: 39.



Updated and Revised by CPE Member Economist Sue Holmberg

October 2011


Data Note:
The figures for 2005 are BLS projections.


Data Source:
US Bureau of Labor Statistics.