Our Increasingly Female Workforce

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Our Increasingly Female Workforce

A dramatic shift is quietly transforming the American business landscape.  As recently as 1970, women made up just 38 percent of the U.S. workforce.  Today, 50 percent of U.S. jobs are held by women.

At the same time, the "glass ceiling" that has traditionally kept females from the top positions in corporations is starting to shatter.  The heads of PepsiCo, Archer Daniels Midland, and W.L. Gore, (the maker of Goretex), are women.  Pearson, the $3.5 billion international media conglomerate is headed up by a woman, as are Ogilvy & Mather, Avon Products, Xerox, Sara Lee, Sunoco, Kraft Foods, DuPont, Rite Aid, Reynolds American, Yahoo, and Western Union. 

This trend is rapidly accelerating, because almost two-thirds of college degrees granted in America and Europe are now being earned by women.

According to The Economist,1 this represents one of the most profound revolutions in the last half-century.  Some of this trend has been enabled by the work of vocal feminists, such as Betty Friedan, and by notable female figures in recent history, such as Margaret Thatcher.  Younger women, seeing what's possible, have "grabbed the brass ring" and moved up quickly.

Other, more subtle, factors are at work, too.  For example, before World War II, the manufacturing economy needed the greater physical strength of the average man.  Yet, in a knowledge economy, strength is no longer an advantage. 

Contraceptives also played a part.  Women could more easily postpone having children and pursue advanced education without worrying that they'd have to quit if they became pregnant.  In 1963, only two-thirds of women with college degrees were working.  Today, that figure is 80 percent. 

What the women are studying has changed, too.  Today, 12 percent of women are studying education, down from 40 percent in 1966.  Instead, 40 percent of female college students are studying business, up dramatically from a mere 2 percent in 1966.

The Pew Research Center found that wives now earn more than their husbands in 20 percent of marriages, up from just 4 percent 40 years ago.2  How are people responding this radical change?  A survey by the Rockefeller Foundation and Time3magazine found that 90 percent of men said they didn't mind women earning more than they did and, more broadly, 75 percent of all respondents were accepting of the new place for women in society.

Even so, there are still big differences in the status of men and women, on average, in the working world...

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