Women Are Leaving the Labor Force in Record Numbers

Claudia Goldin, former head of the American Economic Association, called the period beginning in the mid-1970s the quiet revolution in women's labor. The ranks of female workers had grown steadily after World War II, but what changed drastically starting in the '70s, according to Goldin, wasn't the raw numbers, but mindset. Women made employment decisions for themselves, they pursued careers, and their work became part of their identity. The COVID-19 pandemic, by any measure, has been a blow to that identity. Piled atop challenges such as pay disparities and expensive childcare is an economic downturn that hit women workers measurably harder than men—the so-called “she-cession.” One particularly sobering number: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force in October 2020 than there were in October 2019.