Women in the Workforce: A Powerful Force for Growth

Women in the workforce have been a significant factor for change in business productivity, economic growth and education levels in the United States. Women’s participation in the workforce increased from 34 percent in 1950 to almost 57 percent in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The increase of women in the paid workforce was arguably the most significant change in the economy in the past century,” says Amanda Weinstein, Economics professor at the University of Akron.

This increase of women in the workforce generates an increase in wages. Weinstein says that as the women’s share of the labor force increases by 10 percent, real wage growth increases by nearly 10 percent. This may happen because the labor market is more competitive with a larger pool of qualified applicants or because women provide skills and perspective that men don’t. Women in the labor market may help businesses better understand consumer needs since women control most spending of large and small consumer goods. Women control grocery, clothing and beauty purchases. They also make decisions in 94 percent of home furnishing purchases, 91 percent of homes, 60 percent of autos and 51 percent of consumer electronics.

The Council of Economic Advisors says that the economy is 13.5 percent larger, about $2 trillion, because of women’s increased participation in the labor force since 1970. “Essentially all of the income gains that middle-class American families have experienced since 1970 are due to the rise in women’s earnings.”

Along with increasing their participation in the workforce, women have also been attaining higher levels of education. In 1960, 49 percent of women ages 15-44 did not have a high school diploma. Today 61 percent of women that age have at least some college. Among married couples today it is common for women to have more education than the man. That fact, along with an increase in the number of single families headed by women, means women often are the primary support for a family.

However, recently the participation of women in the workforce has been declining. Women’s participation peaked at about 60 percent in 1999 has declined to about 57 percent presently. This is a contrast to other OECD countries where participation of women in the workforce is continuing to grow.

Keeping the participation of women in the workforce strong is key to improving business productivity and assuring that families have an income that allows them to be full participants in the economy. Without women in the workforce businesses lose valuable skills and perspectives that help them meet consumer demands. Without women in the workforce the U.S. is less able to compete on a global market and middle-class families have less security.

Women in the workforce are a powerful change agent for the U.S. Supporting women in the labor market with tuition assistance is one way employers can ensure that their employees have skills needed to grow in their positions and create a stable workforce. It is one way to business can be sure they have the best talent for business growth and development. Amanda Weinstein shows how important it is to keep the participation of women in the workforce high. “When fewer women participate in the labor force, the economy operates without the talents and abilities of 51 percent of the population.”

Jamie Merisotis of the Lumina Foundation spoke at SUNY Empire State College graduation about the importance of education. His address was for all graduates and it contains a strong message to women in the workforce who are also working to complete their higher education. It contains a message about why it is important for businesses to continue to support women as they seek higher education. “The degree you’ve earned benefits all of us. That’s because the power of learning will not only continue to change your life for the better, it will help ensure our collective success. The fact is, education – no matter when or where it takes place – changes people in remarkable and surprising ways. It sparks a fire. It makes us more open to experiences and ideas… more tolerant and understanding of others. It instills a desire to keep learning. It makes us better parents… employers… neighbors… and global citizens.”