Women held slightly more jobs than men in December — the first time that’s happened in nearly a decade.
The numbers are super close, with women holding 50.04% of American jobs, but economists note it’s a data point worth watching because it could mark a turning point in the US labor market.
Sectors that have traditionally been dominated by men, like manufacturing and construction, have slowed amid the US-China trade war.
Meanwhile, jobs in the health care sector, which employs more women than men, have been on an upswing. In 2019, for example, 399,000 health care jobs were added to the US economy, more than in any other sector. In contrast, the manufacturing sector added only 46,000 jobs and construction added 151,000 jobs last year.
As America’s population ages, the health care industry is expected to continue growing and adding new jobs: the older people get, the more care they need. That’s why hiring in the sector is thought to be recession-proof.
It’s also why women’s job numbers are expected to keep growing.
Even though 60% of physicians and surgeons are men, female employees still make up the vast majority of the broader health care industry, BLS data shows. 89% of registered nurses are female. Similarly, home health aides, one of the fastest growing jobs in the US economy, are 89% female.
The gender split of workers is not evenly divided across sectors, and it shows up in certain professions at different intervals. For example, “in recessions in general, men lose more jobs than women,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. That is because jobs in cyclical sectors like industrials and energy tend to employ more men than women, and are often the first to dwindle in a downturn.
In the last recession following the 2008 financial crisis, jobs related to the housing boom were particularly affected. The construction industry, which remains male dominated, lost more than 2 million jobs between its 2006 peak and its low in 2011.
Hovering around 50/50
The Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that women held about half of all jobs in the last three months of 2019. In October and November, they were just below half.
But the margin is so narrow that the BLS rounds the gender split up to 50/50.
Aside from sectors being a factor, there’s another reason women may be inching ahead: They’re slightly more likely than men to hold two or more jobs.