Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Women in Oregon's Workforce
by Shawna Sykes
Published Jan-26-2012

The face of Oregon's workforce, and the women in it, has been changing. Compared with the 1970s, Oregon's female workforce is a little older, more educated, and better represented across a wide variety of industries and occupations. The participation of women in Oregon's labor force has grown substantially but is still smaller than Oregon's male workforce. Since the recent recession, men have dealt with higher rates of unemployment than women.

Oregon's Workforce by Age and Gender
In 2010, there were over 2 million people in Oregon's labor force, of which approximately 47 percent (944,000) were women and 53 percent (1.058 million) were men. Overall, the labor force participation rate is higher for men than women in Oregon. In 2010, 71 percent of the civilian non-institutionalized male population aged 16 or over was part of the Oregon labor force, while only 61 percent of Oregon women were.

Men outnumber women in every age group in Oregon's workforce except one - the 20 to 24 year olds, where women outnumber men by about 8,000 workers (Graph 1). The largest difference in male and female workers is between the ages of 25 and 44 when men outnumber women in Oregon's workforce by over 100,000 workers.

For both genders combined, the number of people in the labor force aged 16 to 19 years old has dropped in the past 10 years, from 107,000 in 2000 to only 76,000 in 2010. This 29 percent drop in youth in the Oregon workforce could be partly due to their difficulty finding work, competing against experienced adults for entry-level jobs during recessionary times. It could also be the result of structural changes in society restricting the work hours and types of work available to teens and the increased participation by teens in school activities and community service as part of school graduation requirements. Kids these days are waiting longer to get their driver's license and their first job.

The number of women in the labor force between the ages of 35 and 44 in Oregon dropped by 10 percent in the past 10 years, while the number of women in the workforce between 55 and 64 jumped by 87 percent. The Baby Boomer generation has aged but continues working. Those 55 and over made up over 20 percent of Oregon workers in 2010, up from nearly 13 percent just 10 years ago.

Graph 1
Oregon's workforce by age and gender 2010
Labor Force Participation by Women has Grown Substantially Since 1975
The percentage of Oregon women who've chosen to be in the labor force increased from about 48 percent in 1975 to nearly 61 percent in 2010, a growth rate of 27 percent in the time period. This rate of growth is just slightly higher than the growth rate nationwide of 26 percent. The percentage of Oregon women in the labor force has been slightly higher than the national rate for nearly all of the past 35 years. Why is that? Are Oregon women more independent, self-reliant souls? I'd like to think so. Even so, many states have a higher participation rate of women in the labor force. In 2009 Oregon ranked 28th highest among the U.S. states and District of Columbia, behind the other western states of Alaska (9th highest), Washington (17th highest), Montana (22nd highest), and Nevada (26th highest) but ranking higher than Idaho (34th highest) and California (37th highest) according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 Statistical Abstract.

Graph 2
Oregon women more likely to work than U.S. women
Parenthood's Impact on the Workforce
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey, just over three-fourths of Oregon families are married-couple families. About two-thirds of those married-couple families with children under 18 years old had both the husband and wife in the labor force in 2009. Just over one-fourth of families had just the husband in the labor force, while only 4.2 percent had just the wife in the labor force. Of the other Oregon families with children under 18 years old, about three-fourths have a female head of household with no husband present and about 80 percent of those women are in the labor force. One-quarter of Oregon's other families have a male head of household with no wife present and about 88 percent of those men are in the labor force.

Labor Force Participation Rate Highest Among Women Who've Never Married
The labor force participation rate is highest among Oregon women who've never been married (71%), and lowest among widowed Oregon women (18%). The percentage of separated (69%) and divorced women (68%) in the labor force are nearly equal while three out of five married women are in the labor force. For Oregon men, the highest labor force participation rate is among those who are married, but separated (73%), followed by those never married (69%), divorced (67%), married (50%), and widowers (18%).

Married women, if you include those who are also separated, make up just over half (53%) of Oregon's female labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey. Of those single women in Oregon's labor force, nearly two-thirds have never been married, while nearly one-third are divorced, and the balance are widowed.

Of the men in Oregon's labor force, 57 percent are married while 43 percent are single. Men who have never been married make up 73 percent of all single men in Oregon's labor force, while 25 percent are divorced and 1 percent widowed.

Graph 3
Women in Oregon's labor force by marital status
Employment and Unemployment Higher Among Men in 2010
Of the nearly 1.8 million working Oregonians in 2010, 52 percent were men and 48 percent women. The percentage of jobs held by women in 2010 was up from the portion of employment in 2000 of 46 percent.

The number of unemployed Oregonians dropped slightly from 225,000 in 2009 to 221,000 in 2010. There were 130,000 unemployed men in Oregon in 2010, an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent. The number of unemployed women in Oregon in 2010 was 91,000, an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. This was up slightly from the unemployment rate of women in 2009 of 9.4 percent and more than double the rate 10 years ago of 4.3 percent.

The annual average unemployment rate of Hispanic or Latino Oregonians was slightly higher than Oregonians overall at 11.6 percent in 2010, and the unemployment rate of Hispanic women was higher (11.3%) than Oregon women overall (9.7%).

Like their male counterparts, women from 25 to 44 years old made up the greatest share of Oregon's unemployed women in 2010. However, the number of unemployed women ages 55 to 64 grew at the fastest rate in the past 10 years, more than tripling in number from 2000 to 2010.

Women's labor force participation has increased since the 1970s, though the rate has leveled off since 2003. Men continue to make up more than half of Oregon's workforce, though the number of women was closer in 2010 than 10 years earlier. The construction and manufacturing led recession has meant higher unemployment, especially for men, in recent years.

Graph 4
Oregon unemployment rate by gender annual average