In a year filled with bleak employment news, there is one bright spot: the share of employed US women ages 25-54 has recently reached a record high of 75.3%, according to research conducted by the Penn Wharton Budget Model. This increase in employment rates among women is particularly noteworthy considering that just three years ago, these women were at risk of experiencing a “she-cession.” This term refers to the vulnerability of women in the workforce, particularly during times of economic downturn. The closure of schools and daycares amid the ongoing pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women, leading to concerns about the long-lasting effects on the economy. However, against all odds, women’s employment rates have defied expectations and moved in the opposite direction, surpassing the previous employment peak achieved just before the pandemic by 1%.
What’s driving this surprising rise in employment rates for US women? According to the study conducted by Wharton, there are two main factors contributing to this all-time high. Firstly, there has been a significant increase in the share of prime-age women with a college degree over the past 20 years. This shift from below 30% to 45%+ has resulted in more college graduates entering the workforce, thereby boosting the overall employment rates for women. Additionally, college-educated women with young children are now more likely to continue working compared to previous years. The study indicates that the share of working female college graduates with children under 10 has risen by 10% from the early 2000s to 2023.
However, it is crucial to highlight that employment rates for other groups of women, specifically those without college degrees and those with degrees but without young children, have remained stagnant. This disparity can be attributed to the fact that many jobs that do not require a college degree often offer less flexibility and lack benefits such as maternity or sick leave. These factors make it challenging for women in these groups to secure and sustain employment.
This rise in employment rates for US women can also be attributed to a range of societal changes that have taken place in recent years. Well-paying jobs available to college-educated women are more likely to offer remote and hybrid work options, which provide greater flexibility for parents. Additionally, cultural shifts have played a role in shaping women’s employment trends. There has been a decrease in the belief that men should be the sole breadwinners, and the rising cost of living puts pressure on women to contribute to household incomes.
While the increase in employment rates for women is undoubtedly a positive development, there is still work to be done in achieving true gender equality in the workforce. Men with a college degree and a child under 10 have a significantly higher employment rate of 95.4% compared to their female counterparts. This disparity highlights the persistence of the wage gap and the need for further efforts to address and eliminate gender-based pay inequity.
Looking ahead, it is essential to continue addressing the challenges that lie ahead in ensuring equality in the workplace. This includes combating the wage gap, creating supportive policies and practices that promote work-life balance, and offering opportunities for career advancement for women in all sectors and industries. By doing so, we can not only further increase employment rates for women but also create a more inclusive and equitable working environment for all.