Mar 13, 2023 - Economy

Economic security for women "more fragile" than realized

Illustration of a woman in a suit with a briefcase climbing a ladder that is disappearing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many measures of economic progress for women are pointing in the right direction, but the pandemic has put the vitality of that progress under strain.

What they’re saying: "What the pandemic really brought home was the realization that … economic and personal security for women is more fragile than we probably have expected previously," Emily Haber, German ambassador to the U.S., told Axios’ Courtenay Brown.

  • “Even if we secure progress, progress seems to be standing on thin ice.”

State of play: The share of women between the prime working ages of 25 and 54 working or looking for work has virtually rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, after nearly 20% of the entire U.S. female population lost their jobs.

  • There are more women leading Fortune 500 companies than ever before, and women’s entrepreneurship has been on the rise — with women starting 49% of new businesses in 2021, up from 28% in 2019.

Yes, but: Women are much more likely to report burnout from the pandemic as they struggle with return-to-office policies and lack of child care options.

Caregiving penalty

Zoom in: Women continue to bear a disproportionate burden from caregiving throughout their lives — they are five to eight times more likely than men to report an impact on their careers as a result, a Center for American Progress study finds.

  • Having a child greatly reduces the employment rate of women, particularly for those with children under the age of 5, the Center for American Progress study also found.
Share of <b style = "color: #00c46b">men</b> and <b style = "color: #835bff">women</b> who reported a caregiving impact on their employment, 2022
Data: The Center for American Progress; Chart: Axios Visuals

The gender pay gap

The types of jobs that women and men hold play a role in the overall gender pay gap in the U.S., which has barely budged over the past 20 years.

  • The intrigue: Pay disparity within occupations can sometimes be wider and worse in fields like finance and insurance than in arts and recreation, blunting the effect of more women moving into higher-paying fields and attaining higher degrees.

When bonuses are discretionary, they may favor men who are more likely to work longer hours and to push for a raise, Ruth Thomas, a pay equity strategist at Payscale, told CNBC.

  • For example, the largest uncontrolled pay gap is for women with MBAs, who take home 76 cents for every dollar a man with an MBA makes, Payscale found.

What to watch: There’s no single explanation for why progress on shrinking the pay gap has “all but stalled,” according to Pew Research.

  • But differential treatment, including by race and ethnicity, contributes to the problem.

The bottom line: "Working against discrimination of women, of other groups, is not a woman's business. It's the business of society at large," said Haber.

Change in the share of U.S. workers who are women, 1982-2022
Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 8, 2023 in Axios Closer.

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