In 2010, women represented 46.7 percent of the United States labor force, a slightly larger share than at the start of the recession in 2007. Overall 71.9 million women were employed or looking for work, representing 58.6 percent of all women aged 16 and over.
As the overall workforce has become more diverse, so have working women. Among women in the labor force, 13.1 percent are black, 4.7 percent are Asian and 12.8 percent are of Hispanic ethnicity. Along all racial groups, men are more likely to be employed than are women, however black women are almost as likely as black men to be employed — a fact that reflects the lower likelihood of black men working compared to other men. The gender gap is widest among Hispanics — as Hispanic men are more likely than other men to be employed, while Hispanic women are less likely than other women to be employed.
Women are nearly twice as likely as men to work part time. In 2010, 26.6 percent of women worked part time compared to just 13.4 percent of men. More women are currently working part-time than were doing so prior to the recession, reflecting the increase in women working part-time because they can't find full-time work. One in five women working part-time are doing so because they can't find full-time work. Prior to the recession, less than one in ten women working part-time were doing so because they couldn't find full-time work.
Women are nearly 50 percent more likely to work in the public sector than are men with 18.2 percent of employed women working in public sector jobs. Despite this high concentration in a heavily unionized sector — 36.2 percent of those working in the public sector are members of unions compared to 6.9 percent of those in the private sector — women are less likely to belong to a union than are men. In 2010, 11.1 percent of women were union members, compared to 12.6 percent of men.1
Women are less likely to be self-employed, only 5.5 percent, compared to 8.3 percent of men.2 However, women-owned businesses are growing rapidly. According to the most recent Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners (2007), the number of women-owned businesses grew by 20.1 percent between 2002 and 2007, compared to 5.5 percent for men-owned firms. In 2007, the Census counted 7.8 million women-owned business, representing 28.7 percent of all nonfarm businesses in the US.
Women surpass men in educational attainment. Among the employed ages 25 and over, 37.1 percent of women have at least a bachelor's degree compared to 34.9 percent of men. Because women are less likely than men to be in the workforce, female college graduates are still outnumbered by male college graduates in the labor force. However, women with a bachelor's degree outnumber men by 1.6 million in the population as a whole and women are a growing share of college graduates. As such, women college graduates are likely to outnumber male college graduates in the labor force in the near future.
Half of all women working as full-time wage and salary workers earned $669 or more per week in 2010. This median weekly wage was 81.2 percent of that earned by men. Asian women earned the most among women in 2010 — with half of all Asian women earning $778 or more. Hispanic women earned the least, with half of all Hispanic women earning $508 or more per week (and thus half earning less).
The unemployment rate averaged 8.6 percent among women in 2010. Data for March 2011 shows that the economic situation is improving for women, who have seen their unemployment rate decline to 8.3 percent.
However, while the private sector has added 1.7 million jobs over the past 12 months, the public sector has lost nearly 400,000. Since women are disproportionately likely to work in the public sector, their unemployment decline has been smaller than that experienced by men. The unemployment rate for men averaged 10.5 percent in 2010 and has declined to 9.3 percent in March 2011. However women continue to have a lower unemployment rate than men, are less likely to be long-term unemployed, and have a median duration of unemployment that was 1.9 weeks shorter than men's in 2010.
Footnotes1Union membership refers to members of a labor union or an employee association similar to a union. However, some workers are represented by unions despite not belonging to a union themselves. In 2010, 12.4 percent of women and 13.8 percent of men were either union or employee association members or workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union or an employee association contract.
2Self-employed refer to self-employed workers whose businesses are unincorporated.