Expert Commentary

Women in the Labor Force: A Databook

2012 publication by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on women in the workplace, 1979-2010.


A 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook,” presents comprehensive historical and contemporary statistics on women’s participation in the labor force between 1970 and 2010, including employment, salaries and more.

The report is based on data from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of approximately 60,000 U.S. households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Key findings include:

  • The percentage of women in the workforce has risen from 43.3% in 1970 to 58.6% in 2010. Over the same period, the percentage of men in the workforce fell from 79.7% to 71.2%.
  • The median weekly earnings for a woman working full-time in 2010 was $669, 81% of a man’s median weekly earnings ($824). In 2010 a woman age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned a median weekly salary of $986; a woman with an associate’s degree earned $677 per week and one with a high school education earned $543 per week.
  • “[Median weekly] earnings of Asian ($773) and White ($684) women were substantially higher than the earnings of their Black ($592) and Hispanic ($508) counterparts. Women’s-to-men’s earnings ratios were higher among Blacks (94%) and Hispanics (91%) than among Asians (83%) and Whites (81%).”
  • Couples in which the husband was the sole wage earner represented 18% of married couples in 2009, a slight increase from 2008 (17.8%) and half the percentage (36%) in 1967. For more than half of couples (55%), both husbands and wives worked in 2009, up from 44% in 1967.
  • In 2009, working wives earned 37% of their families’ incomes, a 10 percentage-point increase from 1970. “The proportion of wives earning more than their husbands also has grown. In 1987, 18% of working wives whose husbands also worked earned more than their spouses; in 2009, the proportion was 29%.”
  • More women (7.5%) than men (6.6%) make up the ranks of the working poor. “Black and Hispanic women were significantly more likely than their White or Asian counterparts to be among the working poor. Poverty rates for Black and Hispanic working women were 14.2% and 13.6%, respectively, compared with 6.4% and 5.5%, respectively, for White and Asian women.”
  • While the percentage of self-employed women in 2010 (5.2%) was less than that of their male counterparts (7.6%), the number of self-employed women has nearly doubled — from 35,027,000 to 65,164,000 — between 1976 and 2010.

Tags: women and work