The Global Labor Force Participation Rate Among Women Is Rapidly Shifting

A new paper considers reasons for changes in the female labor force participation rate.

Female Labor Supply: Why is the US Falling Behind?“:

In 1990, the US had the sixth highest female labor participation rate among 22 OECD countries. By 2010, its rank had fallen to 17th. We find that the expansion of “family-friendly” policies including parental leave and part-time work entitlements in other OECD countries explains 28-29% of the decrease in US women’s labor force participation relative to these other countries. However, these policies also appear to encourage part-time work and employment in lower level positions: US women are more likely than women in other countries to have full time jobs and to work as managers or professionals.

Using data from this study, Philip Cohen created a chart of the 20 year change in the women’s labor force participation rate in 22 wealthy nations.


We can see that the female labor supply in the Nordic countries was high in 1990 and remains high today. Ireland on the other hand saw a tremendous shift moving from a women’s labor force participation rate of 45% in 1990 to 72% in 2010. Spain, Italy, Greece, and Luxembourg all also experienced significant gains.

The U.S. is on the lower end of female laborers, and has been essentially unchanged since 1990. Japan seems to be the outlier of these nations having a consistently low female labor supply.