When More Women Join the Workforce, Wages Rise — Including for Men

The increase of women in the paid workforce was arguably the most significant change in the economy in the past century. In the U.S., women’s participation in the labor market has nearly doubled, from 34% of working age women (age 16 and older) in the labor force in 1950 to almost 57% in 2016. When it passed 50% in 1978, working women became the norm.

Yet although the female labor force participation rate has been rising steadily in the country, it has not done so evenly across cities. In places like Gadsden, Alabama, and Punta Gorda, Florida, less than half of working age women (46% and 42%, respectively) were in the paid workforce in 2010; cities like Madison, Wisconsin, had 73% and Fargo, North Dakota, had more than 75% (the highest in the nation) of women in the workforce. There is also significant variation within states: In California women’s labor force participation in 2010 was 62% in San Francisco but just 57% in San Diego; in Pennsylvania it was 62% in Philadelphia but only 57% in Pittsburgh.

Previous research has explored the factors that create these disparities — from regional differences in gender role attitudes to varying local business climates and commute times. But not much is known about the effects of these disparities, and how women’s workforce participation affects cities’ economic growth and productivity. Indeed, most of the conversation about women and work revolves around how the economy impacts women; we know comparatively less about how women in turn affect work and the economy.

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