Female labour

OECD Observer

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The number of women going out to work has risen sharply in many OECD countries over the past 40 years, but they still account for less than half the workforce.

And while the female share of the working population rose from 33% in the US and the UK in 1961 to more than 45% today, elsewhere trends are less marked. In Japan, women’s share of the total workforce fell to 38% in 1981 from 40% in 1961 before climbing back up to 41% in 2001, close to the OECD average of 42.6%.

But even if men still outnumber women in the workplace, the fact is that more and more women have jobs outside the home in most OECD countries. Only about 43% of US women aged 16-64 went out to work in 1961, but by 1981 the workers were in the majority at 60% and by 2001 the figure was 70.5%. In Japan more than half of women of working age have been active in the workforce throughout the past 40 years, even if the ratio fell back from almost 60% in 1961 to 53% in 1981 before rising again to 60.1% in 2001.

In countries such as Italy and the UK, too, working women have moved from the minority to the majority of the female population in the past 40 years. Northern Europe seems to have been ahead of the trend, with some 65% of women already going out to work in 1961, but even here the trend has been rising, to 70% in 1981 and 72% in 2001.

©OECD Observer No 235, December 2002




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