Nearly Half Of U.S. Workforce Are Women

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
October 20, 2009

A new study indicates that women now comprise close to 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, and are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.

"The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" project also found that 65.3 percent of women and 61.2 percent of men strongly agreed that they are comfortable with women earning more than men in a household. Nevertheless, the poll also found that the majority of both men and women believed that "it is better for a family if the father works outside the home and the mother takes care of the children."

"The fact that women are working and women are breadwinners is something that both men and women are accepting," explained Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress who was involved in the Woman's Nation project and was quoted by MSNBC.com. "They're just struggling with how to deal with it."

The changing role of women in the workplace is a direct consequence of the economic downturn, which generated layoffs in industries that primarily employed men. Nearly 75 percent of the approximately 7 million workers who have lost jobs in the recession have been men. In September, the unemployment rate for men was at 10.3 percent, while it stood at 7.8 percent for women.

The shift has caused many mothers to redefine their roles. "She used to be the one at home making sure they weren't eating ice cream for dinner," noted Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute, who was quoted by CBS News. "Now she's going to depend on someone else--and that's pretty scary."

Laura Long, a New Jersey mom who started working full-time as a nurse after her husband was laid off, agreed that the new arrangement can take its toll. "I feel like I'm never at home anymore," she told CBS News. "I miss my kids. I miss being at home."

In addition, even though more women may be the primary breadwinners today, the poll indicates that families often are coping with less income as a result. That's because the typical full-time female worker makes approximately 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. A recent study by the Families and Work Institute also found that nearly one quarter of female primary breadwinners lacked access to personal health insurance through their jobs, compared to less than 10 percent of men.

As a result, even though the increase of women in the workforce is viewed as a positive trend, families are feeling the effects of the shift.

"People think that women entering the workforce is, on net, good," explained Boushey in MSNBC.com. "They're coping with it, but what's challenging is what's left behind."

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