Feb 18, 2019

Women now more educated than men, but lag in workforce

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Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

American women are more educated than ever, but in a surprising twist, the workforce participation rate for women has plateaued and even fallen over the past few years, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Why it matters: If more women joined the workforce, that would help promote economic growth and help pay for the Social Security and Medicare needs of the large, retiring Boomer generation.

There are a few theories about this:

  • It could be a result of generational shifts: Women are beginning their careers later. And older people are retiring earlier in the U.S. than in places like Canada, economist Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, told Axios.
  • Some economists and researchers point to a lack of generous family leave or child care assistance policies as a reason the rate of working women has fallen behind other nations, said Lisa Barrow, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve in Chicago. Ivanka Trump has made this her signature issue.

By the numbers: Women with a bachelor's, master's or professional degree are still less likely to be working than men with the same education level, according to BLS.

  • Less educated women are worst off: Workforce participation rates have fallen the most and wages have risen the least among women with only a high school diploma or less, Schanzenbach said.

The big picture: The U.S. used to be a global leader for female workforce participation. But the U.K., Canada and even Japan are now ahead, according to World Bank data.

The bottom line: The gender gap in the U.S. workforce is still a big problem — and it will be harder to maintain economic growth and sustain a large, retired generation if it isn't closed.

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