Census data shows great strides for women, but much more left to do

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In the past four decades, there has been a number of changes in American society and culture.

However, for women in the U.S., some things have stayed much the same, according to Census Bureau data released in advance of National Women’s History Month.

National Women’s History Month began in March 1857, when women from New York City factories staged a protest over working conditions. International Women’s Day, first observed in 1909, led to Congress establishing National Women’s History Week, commemorated the second week of March.

By 1987, Congress expanded the week-long celebration to a month, celebrated in March.

As for women in today’s workforce, numbers show significant gains, while others show much work left to do.

By way of sheer numbers, women’s participation in the labor force has increased considerably, from 30.3 million in 1970 to 75.1 million females 16 and older who participated in the civilian labor force in 2013. Women made up 37.97 percent of the 1970 labor force, jumping to 47.4 percent of the civilian labor force in 2013.

Particular occupations have also seen a sharp increase in women workers. Census data had shown little participation from women in 1970 as accountants, police officers, lawyers and judges, physicians and surgeons, and pharmacists. By 2006-2010, women made considerable gains in those fields – with particularly strong presence as accountants (60 percent).

Of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, 63 percent of social scientists are women, the heaviest representation of women among all. Among other STEM fields, about 14 percent of engineers, 45 percent of mathematicians and statisticians and 47 percent of life scientists were women.

On the other hand, growth in certain segments of the workforce has slowed for women. The largest gain in women’s workforce participation occurred between 1970 and 1980, followed by a slowdown. An increase of only 0.4 percentage points occurred in the period leading up to 2006-2010.

Compare that growth rate to a peak of 4.3 percentage points in the 1970s.

Several occupations are overwhelmingly female. For example, women make up 96.3 percent of dental assistants, 95.9 percent of secretaries and 91.2 percent of registered nurses. Those standings have changed the least in the past 40 years.

In 1970, secretaries, bookkeepers, and elementary school teachers were primarily women. In 2006-2010, those women-led occupations were secretaries and administrative assistants, cashiers, and elementary and middle schoolteachers.

One explanation is the sheer numbers of jobs available; there are more jobs out there for elementary and middle school teaching positions than (as an example) surgeons.

In comparison, the leading jobs for men remain the same as back in 1970: miscellaneous managers, truck drivers, and production supervisors. Four decades later, it is truck drivers, various managers, and freight, stock, and material movers.

Researchers say the increase in female participation in the workplace started with the economics of the 1970s, beginning when a single-income household could no longer support a middle-class lifestyle.

Gender wage gap remained a major issue in 2014; the Census found that year-round, full-time female workers earned 78¢ in 2013 for every dollar their male counterparts earned. Those numbers are not statistically different from 2012.

America's Changing Labor Force

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

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