For only the second time in history, women have the largest presence in the U.S. workforce versus men.
The role-reversal underscores a changing economy where sectors that employ more women are the ones that are also expanding. It also could change how companies recruit new workers.
Female workers held 50.04% of non-farm payroll jobs last month, according to data released by the Labor Department, accounting for 76.2 million jobs. By contrast, men held 76.1 million jobs in December. The numbers exclude agriculture jobs and self-employment; if included, the number of working men outnumber their female counterparts – 81.4 million to 72.2 million.
“Women are becoming more and more economically important in the United States. They're important consumers and important workers,” said Martha Gimbel, manager of economic research at Schmidt Future. “Employers are going to have to start thinking more about what a labor market that is increasingly employing women really looks like.”
Women take over
The growth is partly driven by employment gains in education and health care, sectors that women dominated, Gimbel said. Both accounted for almost a third of job growth in 2019. Health care by itself added 399,000 jobs in 2019.
The goods-producing sector, which includes manufacturing, construction, and mining and logging, overwhelmingly employ men and are lagging on the jobs front. For instance, mining employment fell by 24,000 last year.
“The goods-producing sectors that employ men have really dramatically slowed their growth,” Gimbel said. “That means that those jobs that are often appealing for men aren't as available.”
The only other time women outnumbered men in the workforce was for several months in 2009 and 2010, according to Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. But that was because employment in manufacturing and construction plunged because of the recession.
“This time the economy is operating near full employment...this is a long-term trend, not a cyclical story,” he said. “I expect that the women's share of payroll employment will continue to grow, although slowly, at least until we see another recession.”
How are employers adjusting
The growing number of women in the workforce combined with the ongoing labor shortage that has changed how employers target female candidates, Irina Novoselsky told Yahoo Finance.
“One of the things they are looking to offer is a more diverse route to work.” she said, “whether you’re working from home one day, [or] whether it’s more flexible hours.”
Companies that are struggling to fill positions in cities are looking to the suburbs to attract female workers there. To draw more diverse candidates – including women – employers are offering more appealing benefits, more days off, and putting a focus on the company culture.
“Right now, we rely on a model where women do both a full-time job at work and a full-time job at home,” Gimbel said. “And as more and more women enter the workforce, that’s just not going to work.”
Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.