Skip to main content
The FRED® Blog

Women in the labor force

Today is International Women’s Day, declared by the United Nations, which falls within Women’s History Month in the United States. FRED offers a lot of data by gender, so we can reflect on at least some ideas and data that specifically illuminate women’s experiences in the economy.

The first FRED graph shows how the labor force participation rates of men (in blue) and women (in red) have evolved over the past few decades. The red line reveals an impressive increase since 1948 in women’s overall participation in the formal labor force. But that increase seems to have stalled since the turn of the century, and there appears to be a new steady state in comparison with men’s participation rate.

If equality is the goal here, then overcoming the initial obstacles (say, the hiring of women after they’re married or hiring more women engineers) hasn’t been enough to close the gap.

The second graph depicts another front in the effort toward equality: the gender pay gap. This comparison has its subtleties and can’t be completely analyzed with only aggregate statistics. Why?

Although some narrowing of the gap is clear, the end goal of equal opportunities and equal pay for equal qualifications requires more-complex measurement: Women and men do not choose the same education and career paths in equal numbers. Currently, a majority of university students are female; but a majority of graduates in the highest-paying fields are still male. Women’s professional careers are also disproportionately obstructed because they accommodate family duties more than men do. Again: These subtleties can’t be distinguished in the aggregate data. Fortunately, though, economists do perform much more detailed data analysis, as in this Economic Synopses essay.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search for “labor force participation men” and click on the best result. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select the corresponding series for women. For the second graph, repeat the same exercise for “wages.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: LES1252881900Q, LES1252882800Q, LNS11300001, LNS11300002

The educational and health services sector is no longer recession-proof

The FRED Blog has discussed how resilient the educational services industry has been to recessions: Employment levels in schools and colleges in New York City and California, for example, decreased at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but bounced back mid-year.* With 2020 behind us, we use the Employment Situation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to revisit this topic.

The FRED graph above shows that since 1991, when data for educational services employment first became available, the year-to-year percent change in the number of persons employed has been positive in all but two years: 1992 and 2020. While the U.S. economy wasn’t in recession during any part of 1992, overall economic activity did contract starting in February 2020. That contraction resulted in a net loss of employment in educational services, health care, and social services for the year as a whole.

To go further back in time than 1991, we can examine data for the combined educational and health services supersector. Although educational and health services did not register the largest loss in annual employment among all the service industries in 2020, it did decrease for the first time since 1940. Stay tuned to the FRED Blog as we continue to monitor the wealth of FRED data during the rebound in economic activity expected for 2021.

* Revisit this July 30 FRED Blog post and click-and-drag on the graphs to expand the timeline.

How this graph was created: From FRED’s main page, browse data by “Release.” Search for “Employment Situation” and navigate the release table menus until you reach “Current Employment Statistics (Establishment Data): Table B-1. Employees on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector and selected industry detail, Seasonally adjusted.” From there, check the boxes next to “Educational services,” “Health care,” and “Social assistance” and click on “Add to Graph.” Next, edit the graph by selecting “Edit Line 1.” Change the units to “Percent Change from Year Ago” and click on “Copy to all.” Last, change the format by selecting “Graph type: Bar.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CES6561000001, CES6562000101, CES6562400001

The industrial composition of recessions

Every recession is different, affecting some industries more than others. Analyzing the composition of the recession may reveal how the recovery from the recession may progress, as jobs in some industries appear easier to fill than jobs in other industries. The recession that followed the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) resulted in a substantial downturn in construction, among other industries. Triggered by lockdowns associated with containing COVID-19, the 2020 recession had substantial effects on the travel and hospitality industries—restaurants, hotels, airlines, etc.

The FRED graphs in this post show employment for four industries in thousands of persons, with the shaded gray bars indicating the period of recession. The first industry—construction—experienced a substantial downturn during and after the GFC, and recovery from that episode was slow. During the COVID-19 recession, however, the downturn in construction was relatively small; as of January 2021, it had recovered about 77% of its employment loss. The other three industries—amusement, gambling, and recreation; accommodation; and food services—experienced relatively small downturns during the GFC recession but very large downturns during the COVID-19 recession. Following the GFC, these industries recovered fairly quickly. Thus, one might infer that, subsequent to the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, these industries may recover quickly, thus shortening the duration of the recovery.

How these graphs were created: Search FRED for and select “All Employees, Construction.” Using the blue sliding bar at the bottom of the graph, or the date entry boxes in the top right-hand corner, adjust the timespan to your desired date range. Repeat for the series “All Employees, Amusements, Gambling and Recreation,” “All Employees, Accommodation,” and “All Employees Food Services and Drinking Places.”

Suggested by Julie Bennett and Michael Owyang.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CES7071300001, CES7072100001, CES7072200001, USCONS


Subscribe to the FRED newsletter


Follow us

Back to Top