Behind the Rise of Women in the Work Force

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The labor market is no longer a man’s world.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of women employed in the U.S. increased by roughly 2.1 million, while the number of men remained essentially stagnant, increasing by just 54,000 in 10 years, according to data provided to MainStreet by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, the share of all jobs held by men in the U.S. dropped to just 52.8% by the end of the decade.

In part, labor experts pin this trend on a recession that disproportionately affected male-centered industries such as manufacturing and construction, but this tells only  some of the story. Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, men moved toward being the minority in a number of professions they had long dominated.

This was particularly prevalent in professions requiring advanced degrees. Medical scientists, for example, who typically need a Ph.D. to work in labs or at pharmaceutical companies, experienced one of the biggest changes in gender makeup of any profession. In 2000, the majority of those who worked in the profession (54%) were men, but by last year just 46% of medical scientists were men.

Likewise, the percentage of male veterinarians declined from nearly 70% in 2000 to about 44% last year, making this the profession with the single greatest shift in the proportion of men to women, according to MainStreet’s analysis of the BLS data.

Much of the changing gender balance, experts argue, can be traced to the early 1970s, when more women began pursuing college degrees and full-time careers.

“Young women in elementary and middle school began to look around and realize that they were going to be in the labor force for a substantial part of their lifetimes and therefore needed to concentrate more on professions that were better investments,” said Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University.

Indeed, studies show that women today are more likely to graduate from college and master’s programs than men, and all this education has made them incredibly competitive in the job market.

“There has been a real shift in the education of the population,” said Robert Drago, director of research for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Any profession where you see high education requirements like health care, law and accounting, you’ll likely see a lot more women than there were 10 or 20 years ago.”