Why Women's Workforce Participation May Decline
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While women continue to encounter workplace sexism, one consolation has been that at least that means more and more women are working in the first place. But in a disheartening turn of events, a recent Bureau of Labor projection predicts that the proportion of women in the workforce will actually start declining around 2025 — and the possible reasons why are troubling.

According to a Pew Research analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the increase the United States has seen in working women has been slowing since the '90s. The percentage of working Americans who are women was at 46.8 percent in 2015, is expected to reach 47.1 percent in 2025, and will likely plummet to 46.3 percent by 2060. That may seem like a small decrease, but 186 million Americans are projected to be working in 2060. If women's participation remained at its 2025 rate, that'd be nearly 88 million women. At the projected 2060 rate, it's about 81 million — a difference of seven million women.

With women becoming increasingly educated and gender roles shifting, why would trends in workforce participation indicate the opposite? While the data themselves don't tell us the answer, the reasons why some women currently don't work say a lot. Here are several factors that could be contributing to this problem — because contrary to some people's opinions, sexism is still very real, and it's still setting us back left and right.


Lack Of Childcare Options

Childcare costs more than 30 percent of minimum wage and more than most state schools' tuitions, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. And considering that very few workplaces offer daycare, taking a break from work can pose less of a financial burden for some families than paying for help.

And on a not unrelated note...


The Wage Gap

This example is heterosexul relationship-specific, but it's one of the sharpest examples of the wage gap at work: When men and women in a heterosexual relationship can't both work full-time — e.g., a couple with children may decide that one parent needs to stay home with the kids because of the aforementioned enormously high cost of childcare — another factor that may determine who works and who stays home is the wage gap. The fact remains that women still only make a percent of what men do for working full-time — as of 2015, 75 to 76 percent for white women, 62 to 63 percent for Black women, and 54 percent for Hispanic or Latina women, according to the AAUW. If the man in the relationship holds the potential to make more money, the couple might decide that it makes more financial sense for him to continue working and for her to work part-time or be the stay-at-home parent.


Gender Roles

While most men and women would ideally like an egalitarian family, research published in Kathleen Gerson's The Unfinished Revolution demonstrates that when that's not possible, they'll default to tradition. Until we challenge gender stereotypes that say women should be homemakers and men should be breadwinners, economic hardships will push women out of the workforce.


Trouble Re-Entering The Workforce

To continue with the above scenario, let's say the woman who has stayed home to take care of kids wants to work again once her kids are in school. Some countries guarantee that you can have your old job back after many months or even years. Not the United States, Women only get three months of unpaid leave, then their employers aren't legally required to take them back. (And once they get hired somewhere else, they're already behind.) Speaking of parental leave...


Unequal Parental Leave Policies

Another obvious reason women would work less than men is that women often have an easier time getting parental leave than men. This gives women yet another reason to stay home that men don't have.


Workplace Sexism

Many women decide not to stick with their jobs because they don't feel like they're being treated fairly or like they belong there. Deloitte's 2016 Millennial Survey found that more women than men planned to quit their jobs soon, and more women than men also said they felt overlooked for promotions — which was also women's biggest workplace complaint in a Fairygodboss survey. While many women in this situation will switch to other jobs, they may encounter the same problem again. If they're already considering leaving the workforce, this factor could push them over the edge.


Fewer Women In The Workforce

Here's a cruel irony: The decline of women in the workforce is probably a self-perpetuating cycle. A recent Harvard University study found that daughters of working moms are more educated and more likely to succeed in their own careers. So, moms who don't work are more likely to have daughters who don't work, who will have more daughters who don't work, and so on. That's why we need to address these factors now in order to prevent a huge decline in women workers later.