More college-educated moms are working than ever before

A predicted pandemic cliff for women’s employment never materialized and records are now falling.

While there’s been a lot of bleak employment news this year, there was one bright spot: The share of employed US women ages 25-54 recently hit a record 75.3%, according to new research by the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

working age women in the workforce

These women, considered prime working age, were said to be at risk of a “she-cession” just three years ago.

When schools and day cares closed amid the pandemic, women were disproportionately pushed out of the workforce — something experts warned would have enduring effects on the economy.

But, against all odds, women’s employment moved in the opposite direction, beating the previous employment peak, set just before the pandemic, by 1%.

What’s driving the rise?

Wharton’s study cites two main reasons for the all-time high:

  • The share of prime-age women with a college degree has lept from below 30% to 45%+ over the last 20 years. As college grads are more likely to work, this means more employed women.
  • College-educated women with young children are more likely to keep working than they once were. The share of working female college graduates with children under 10 rose 10% from the early 2000s to 2023.

For other groups of women — those without college degrees, and those with degrees but without young children — employment rates have stalled.

Why? Because many jobs that don’t require college degrees are less flexible and less likely to offer benefits like maternity or sick leave.

This is due in part to a host of societal changes

Well-paying jobs available to college-educated women are more likely to offer remote and hybrid options, which offer more flexibility for parents.

And there are cultural shifts at play: Fewer people feel that men should work while women stay home, and the rising cost of living puts pressure on women to earn incomes.

Unsurprisingly, there’s still catching up to do — 95.4% of men with a college degree and a child under 10 are employed.

Plus, there’s that pesky wage gap.

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Topics: Economy

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