December 4, 2022

There has been a remarkable labor-market change since the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic – and it happened among college-educated women.

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According to an analysis of federal data from the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., more than half of the college-educated labor force is female, currently women age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree. Are or are more in the workforce than before the COVID-19 pandemic: 31.3 million in the second quarter of 2022, or 50.7% of the labor force, versus 29.1 million in 2019.

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The number of college-educated men aged 25 and older in the workforce also increased from 29.1 million to 30.5 million over the same period, though their numbers did not increase at the same rate. “The change happened in the fourth quarter of 2019 and remains the same today, even though the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp slowdown and an overall decline in the shape of the nation’s labor force,” said Pew senior researcher Richard Fry.

Much attention is paid to labor-force participation – amid concerns that people are dropping out of the workforce – and whether labor-force participation rates will return to pre-pandemic levels, Fry told MarketWatch. “One of the factors influencing the growth of the female college-educated labor force is that college-educated women are the only gender and education group whose labor-force participation rates have returned to their pre-pandemic levels,” he said. .

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,‘College-educated women are the only gender and education group whose labor force participation rates have returned to their pre-pandemic levels.’,

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– Pew senior researcher Richard Fry

The pandemic took a toll on both men and women. But the overall share of college-educated women in the labor force has remained unchanged since before the pandemic, while the share for men has actually declined. And over the same period, the participation rate of college-educated women has increased more than the rate of men. In short, Fry cited “changes in labor-force participation as well as changes in the composition of the American population”.

Women still face barriers to entering the workforce, and additional challenges once they get a job. For starters, babysitting remains an expensive monthly cost for families and single working moms. According to the latest Census Bureau data, women with bachelor’s degrees still earn about 70 cents on the dollar compared to the average annual earnings of a man with a bachelor’s degree, and the wage gap for women of color is often much wider. High-paying fields such as computers and engineering are dominated by men.

For these reasons, and the fact that men have long held C-suite roles and senior management jobs, it has also taken a long time for the number of college-educated women to overtake men in the workforce. “This shift in the college-educated labor force — because women now make up the majority — comes nearly four decades after men overtake men in the number of Americans earning bachelor’s degrees each year,” Fry said.

Overall the labor market is on an upward trajectory. The US added 315,000 new jobs in August, indicating that businesses still have a huge appetite for labor, even as the economy slows and there are concerns about a recession. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose to 3.7% from 3.5%, the government said this month, mostly because more people enter the labor force in search of work. This was the highest unemployment rate in six months.

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(Jeffrey Bartash contributed to this report.)