Men and women have differed in their labor force participation throughout the history of U.S. labor markets.
The labor force participation rate of men has been decreasing since the 1950s, having registered 86.4 percent in 1950, 79.7 percent in 1970, 76.4 percent in 1990, and 73.3 percent in 2005. This decline has resulted from various factors. For example, the Social Security Act was amended in 1960 to make individuals under 50 years of age eligible for disability payments.
The decline in the men’s labor force participation rate is expected to continue; it is projected to be 70 percent in 2020 and 66 percent in 2050.
Women’s labor force participation, which was at a rate of 33.9 percent in 1950, increased significantly during the 1970s and 1980s, climbing to 57.5 percent in 1990. In 1999, the women’s participation rate reached a peak of 60 percent.
By 2000, however, this rate had declined slightly to 59.9 percent, and since then it has been displaying a pattern of slow decline in each successive period, falling to 59.3 percent in 2005. The participation rate of women is projected to be 59.4 percent in 2020 and 55.1 percent in 2050.
This information is from the Employment Projections program. Find out more in "A new look at long-term labor force projections to 2050," by Mitra Toossi, Monthly Labor Review, November 2006.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Changes in men’s and women’s labor force participation rates at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2007/jan/wk2/art03.htm (visited December 10, 2023).