U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Women in the Labor Force

In 2008, 59.5 percent of women aged 16 and older were in the labor force (either employed or not employed and actively seeking employment). This represents a 28.5 percent increase over the 46.3 percent of women who were in the labor force in 1975. During the same period, the percentage of men in the labor force decreased slightly (from 77.9 percent to 73.0 percent).

Women and men aged 18 and older experience similar rates of unemployment (not employed and actively seeking employment). In 2008, 5.2 percent of women and 5.8 percent of men in the labor force were unemployed. Unemployment among both men and women decreases as age increases. Among women, those aged 18–24 years were most likely to experience unemployment (10.0 percent), followed by 25- to 34-year-olds (5.5 percent). Women aged 45–64 and 65 years and older had the lowest proportion of unemployed workers (3.8 and 3.9 percent, respectively).

Labor force participation rates among mothers vary with the age of their child. Among women with at least one child under 6 years of age, 64.0 percent were in the labor force in 2008. In comparison, more than 77 percent of mothers of older children (aged 6–17 years) were in the labor force (data not shown).1

Labor force participation among mothers of children under age 18 also varies by race and ethnicity. Among women with children under 6 years of age, non-Hispanic Black women were most likely to be in the labor force (72.7 percent), followed by non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic White women (67.3 and 66.3 percent, respectively). Hispanic mothers of children under age 6 were least likely to be in the labor force (52.3 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islanders (62.8 percent). Similarly, nearly 80 percent of non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White mothers of older children (aged 6–17 years) were in the labor force in 2008, compared to 70.0 percent of Hispanic and 71.2 percent of non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women (data not shown).2

1 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment characteristics of families in 2008 (USDL 09-0568). Washington, DC: the Department, 2009 May.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2008.  Analysis conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

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