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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

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