In a Washington Post article with the heading, “‘Potty Parity’ hearing set for today,” I discovered that the U.S. Congress was working on a bill to increase the number of female restrooms in federal buildings. Testimony began yesterday.
Watching the PBS NewsHour, I also learned that with two women on the Supreme Court, attorneys occasionally referred to each by the other’s name because they were the “female” justices. Now, they wondered whether a third woman on the court would become the “tipping point,” normalize the female presence, and all would blend as justices.
These new facts started me thinking about how the number of working women had changed. I found some answers in a BLS paper on women’s changing participation rates. Some stats follow. Called participation rates, the percents represent the women who are in the labor force compared to those who could be in the labor force.
1960: 37.7%; 1970: 43.3%; 1980: 51.6%; 1990: 57.5%; 2000: 59.9%; 2005: 59.3%; 2008: 59.5%
A very interesting participation rate stat: For women 65 and older, the rate was 8.1% in 1980, 13.3% in 2008 and projected to be 17.5% in 2016.
The Economic Lesson
Formally defined, the participation rate is a statistic that compares the size of the labor force to its potential total. When we refer to women’s participation rates, we are looking at the women who are in the labor force compared to all who could be in the labor force. For example, if 100 women could be in the labor force and 40 of those 100 are in the labor force, the participation rate is 40%.