2018 Was a Great Year for Women’s Employment

In the coverage of the Department of Labor’s most recent jobs report, one remarkable point was largely missed: 73% of the new jobs created in November 2018 went to women. In fact, in every month of 2018, women were responsible for the lion’s share of job gains.

Of the 2.26 million net new jobs created so far in 2018 in the Labor Department’s establishment survey, 1.42 million (63%) went to women. The result is that over the course of the year, the employment-population ratio (EPOP) has risen 0.8 percentage points for women, compared with just 0.4 percentage points for men.

Prime-age EPOP is now 79.7% as of November 2018, exactly what it was in December 2007 before the Great Recession hit. But the labor market looks a little different. Prime-age male EPOP is down 0.8 percentage points, whereas prime-age female EPOP is up 0.7 percentage points.

What explains the divergent trends in male and female employment? There are likely four driving forces. The first is the increase in the average age of first-time moms. The surge in employment among younger women likely reflects that women are increasingly focusing on their careers in their twenties and early thirties and starting families later.

The second is tremendous employment growth in female-dominated occupations, predominantly in the healthcare sector. Of the 15 million net new jobs created between December 2007 and November 2018, more than a quarter were in the healthcare and social assistance sector. As of 2017, women made up the majority of employees in health diagnosing and treating occupations (74.4%), health technologist and technician occupations (77.4%), and healthcare support occupations (86.5%).

The third is the increase in the female share of total employment in other growing occupations, such as transportation. Rideshare apps appear to have opened driving occupations to women like never before. Traditionally, only 1% of New York cabbies have been women, but about 14% of Uber drivers, 30% of Lyft drivers, and 40% of Sidecar drivers are women.

Occupations with increases in the female share of employmentFemale share of total employment
20072017Percent Change
Transportation occupations11.414.628.07%
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations20.524.419.02%
Construction and extraction occupations2.93.210.34%
Architecture and engineering occupations14.515.78.28%
Management occupations37.440.37.75%
Community and social services occupations61.566.27.64%
Material moving occupations20.321.66.40%
Life, physical, and social science occupations45.247.75.53%
Fire fighting and prevention, and other protective service workers including supervisors23.624.64.24%
Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations46.648.13.22%
Health diagnosing and treating practitioners and other technical occupations72.174.43.19%
Legal occupations50.752.22.96%
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations39.1402.30%
Business and financial operations occupations54.455.31.65%
Sales and related occupations49.349.81.01%
Source: American Community Survey (ACS) 2007 and 2017 one-year estimates

Occupations with decreases in the female share of employmentFemale share of total employment
20072017Percent Change
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations4.43.9-11.36%
Computer and mathematical occupations27.525.4-7.64%
Food preparation and serving related occupations56.453.8-4.61%
Office and administrative support occupations73.870.8-4.07%
Production occupations29.628.8-2.70%
Law enforcement workers including supervisors20.219.7-2.48%
Healthcare support occupations88.386.5-2.04%
Health technologists and technicians78.777.4-1.65%
Personal care and service occupations7877.5-0.64%
Education, training, and library occupations73.373.1-0.27%
Source: American Community Survey (ACS) 2007 and 2017 one-year estimates

The fourth is that women outnumber men in colleges and grad schools. Women earned the majority of doctoral degrees in 2017 for the 9th straight year, and they outnumber men in grad school by 137 to 100, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Women earned a majority of doctoral degrees in 7 of 11 fields tracked by the Council of Graduate Schools, including Biology, Health and Medical Sciences. Women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men since 1982, and they have increased their share of the total each year since.

The growth in women’s employment opportunities has not only manifested itself in job gains but also in earnings growth. Over the past decade, women’s earnings have risen as a percent of men’s for prime-age Americans within each age group. To be fair, they haven’t risen by terribly much–if we sustain this pace of growth, it would take 50-100 years for each of the groups to achieve earnings parity–but the change has been large enough to make a meaningful difference.


Written by

Julia Pollak is Chief Economist at ZipRecruiter. She leads ZipRecruiter's economic research team, which provides insights and analysis on current labor market trends and the future of work.

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