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The rapid rise in women’s labor force participation was a major development in the labor market during the second half of the 20thcentury. Women’s labor force participation increased dramatically from the 1960s through the 1980s, before slowing in the 1990s. After reaching a peak of 60.0 percent in 1999, labor force participation among women began a gradual decline. In 2016, 56.8 percent of all women participated in the labor force.

There have been a number of notable changes over this period with regards to women’s involvement in the labor market. Women now are more likely to work full time and year round than in earlier decades and attain higher levels of education. The proportion of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force who held a college degree more than tripled from 1970 to 2016, increasing from 11 percent to 42 percent; the proportion of men with a college degree about doubled over that time. Women’s earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings also have grown over time. In 1979, women working full time earned 62 percent of what men earned; in 2016, women’s earnings were 82 percent of men’s.

This report presents historical and recent labor force and earnings data for women and men from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a national monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unless otherwise noted, data are annual averages from the CPS. (For a detailed description of the source of the data and an explanation of concepts and definitions used, see the technical notes at the end of this report.)


Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Women in the labor force: a databook (BLS Report 1071). Washington, D.C.: Author.

A previous version of this report can be found here: