Although U.S. women continue to earn less than men for doing the same work, they've taken the lead in another important measure of the labor market: Most U.S. jobs are now held by women.
The share of women drawing a paycheck edged above 50% in December, according to figures released Friday by the Labor Department. Not counting farmers and the self-employed, women briefly crossed that workplace threshold as the economy recovered from the housing crash and millions of men dropped out of the job market. But experts think the gender shift will last this time around because females dominate fast-growing service industries like health care.
"While women had briefly been more than half during the Great Recession, this was due to the massive job loss in the male-dominated construction and manufacturing sectors," economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said in a note. "This increase is likely to be permanent."
There are still many more working men than working women (84 million to 75 million), but men are more likely to be self-employed.
That's in large part because women play an outsized hand in education and health services, filling more than three-quarters of those roles. Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute notes that construction and manufacturing companies added 356,000 jobs over the last two years. But education and health added more than 600,000 jobs over that period.
"Since 2010, women's and men's employment have both increased, with men's growing faster than women's initially. In the last couple of years, women's payroll employment has grown just a bit faster than men's," she said in an analysis of the December job data.
Notably, women are also a growing force in work traditionally done by men. Females held nearly 14% of mining and logging jobs, for instance, up from a year earlier.
And an increasing count of manufacturing jobs are held by women, who now hold nearly a third of transportation and warehouse positions, the data showed.
"Women are working where jobs are growing," tweeted Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan professor and former adviser to President Barack Obama through the Council of Economic Advisers.
For many women, finding new avenues of work is a necessity. That's becauseof jobs traditionally held by females, such as secretaries and administrative assistants, are expected to disappear over the next few years as companies replace workers with software and other technology, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.