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By Global Public Square staff
If you watch even just one episode of "Mad Men," it's clear that since the 1960's, women in the workplace have come a long way. But a new study shows that they still have a long way to go.
Women today make up about half the American workforce, a big leap from the 1960's – the Mad Men era – when they constituted about a third. But, for example, only 23 Fortune 500 companies have CEOs who are women. Or look at average wages – in 1963, a woman in the United States made 59 cents for every dollar a man made. Today, women have made good gains, but on average they make 77 cents for every dollar a male counterpart makes.
The most startling data on women in the workplace, though, came from a study just out from two left-leaning think tanks – the Center for American Progress and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
It turns out that the most important economic trend of the last 30 years might not be high tech...but rather high employment of women. If women hadn't entered the workforce – by the millions – over the last three decades, the study says, the U.S. economy would be about 11 percent smaller.
The report, which was partially funded by the Department of Labor, found that if women worked at 1979 levels, the U.S. economy would have lost over $1.7 trillion in economic output in 2012. That amount – $1.7 trillion dollars – is roughly the GDP of Canada.
One way to see what a country looks like when women don't work so much is to look at Japan.
Japanese women are amazingly well educated, but, for various cultural reasons, they do not enter the workforce and stay in it. And those who do struggle to break the glass ceiling…or the “bamboo ceiling.” Goldman Sachs estimates that if Japan could increase the female employment rate, the country's labor force would expand by more than 8 million people – and its GDP will grow by as much as 15 percent.
That's significant for a stuttering economy with a rapidly aging population. And it's probably why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Abenomics" growth strategy has been infused with "Womanomics." Last year, he announced that he wanted to support women so that they could "shine" in the economy.
And it's not just Japan. According to the International Monetary Fund, increasing women's employment rates around the globe could result in huge gains. If women worked at the same level as men in Egypt, the country's GDP could grow by 34 percent. The United Arab Emirates would see a 12 percent boost. Germany and France 4 percent...and even the United States could see 5 percent more growth.
But, let's be honest, women working has also produced economic complications. A larger, more competitive workforce has arguably kept wages from rising much.
Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Brookings Institution point out that if you look at all working age men, the real earnings of the median American male have decreased by 19 percent since 1970, and this is for a variety of reasons.
Women working has also produced social complications regarding raising children. The Harvard Business review conducted a survey of American women who had left work to have children. Ninety-three percent of them wanted to return to work. But, only 74 percent managed to do so, and just 40 percent were able to return to full-time jobs.
The transformation of women's lives has been one of the great changes in history, but it will take time to get it right and to put in place laws and practices that make it work. Perhaps this will be one of the tasks that Hillary Clinton takes on if she gets that new job everyone is talking about in 2016…