The growing number of women on company payrolls in the US reflects a long-running evolution away from male-dominated industries like manufacturing toward the service side of the economy, where women clearly have an edge.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on January 13, 2020

For only the second time in the history of US, there are more women in the workforce than men.

Job growth over the holiday period saw US employers add just 145,000 jobs. However, 95% of those jobs went to women and pushed them over 50% of the workforce.

“I feel very strongly that a year from now, their share will continue to be over 50%,” Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economist who served in the Obama administration, told NPR.

Labor Department data showed that women held 50.04% of jobs in December, bringing their share of the workforce to 76.2 million.

The only time it happened before was during the Great Recession from June 2009 to April 2010, the worst economic downturn in US history, when a tsunami wave of layoffs hit male manufacturing workers most, temporarily giving women an edge in the workplace. The period was known as the Mancession.

The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report stated that only three countries in Africa had more women than men at work – Burundi, Mozambique and Rwanda.

However the US is experiencing an economic boom under the Trump administration, with unemployment at a 10-year low. Ivanka Trump, the US President’s daughter, told CES 2020, the Consumer Technology Association’s consumer electronics event, that there were 7 million unfilled positions in the US.

“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.”

The growing number of women on company payrolls in the US reflects a long-running evolution away from male-dominated industries like manufacturing toward the service side of the economy, where women clearly have an edge.

“That’s what the US does. We’re a service-sector economy,” Stevenson said. “The service sector is really broad. It’s not just about serving coffee or taking care of children.”

Serving coffee and taking care of children are big businesses. The hospitality industry alone added 40,000 jobs in December. Women hold 77% of the jobs in health care and education — fast-growing fields that eclipse the entire goods-producing sector of the economy.

Stevenson added that women have been outperforming men in education for several years. That investment in education should pay more dividends for the economy, as women’s numbers grow in the workplace.

“The sectors that typically tend to employ men, like mining, manufacturing — those have all been in decline,” said Megan Greene, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Factories shed 12,000 jobs in December while mining and logging lost 9,000.

Construction is one male-dominated field that showed growth last month, adding 20,000 jobs.