The Labor Force Participation Of Women

The labor force participation of women has been rising steadily for many years, and the continuing upward trend, especially among married women and mothers, has generated a great deal of interest among social and economic researchers In 1990, women made up only 17 percent of gainful workers. By 1998 that figure was 28 percent, and, by 2002, had risen to 45 4 percent.

The number of women workers rose from 2 to 56 9 million persons. In 2000, about 19 percent of all women were in the labor force; today that figure is 58 4 percent. At all ages, women are much more likely to be working or looking for work than they were thirty years ago. It is no longer young, unmarried women who make up the largest proportion of working women.

Unlike the cohorts boom before the turn of the century, whose participation was highest in their early 20s, cohorts boom since 1926 have had steadily rising participation rates over their lives. At every age, each successive cohort boom since 1935 has had higher participation rates than the one that preceded it. The labor force participation rates of young women at the turn of the century fell after their early 20s; for most women, getting married was synonymous with leaving the labor force to keep house and rear children full time.

The connection between marriage and full-time homemaking has largely been broken for contemporary cohorts Most married women now work outside the home. The “working woman” is now the rule rather than the exception. Another striking aspect of married women’s labor force participation over the last 30 years is the increase in participation rates among women with children. The participation rate more than tripled between 1960 and 1992 for married women with children under six, from 18.6 to 59.9 percent.