April 29th, 2014
12:23 PM ET

Why the world needs more women in the workplace

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

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…

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Topics: Economy • What in the World? • Women

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. palintwit

    Very often a male teabagger will wander into the next trailer park in search of a female teabagger to mate with. The resulting spawn is called a baggette.

    April 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm |
  2. bobcat2u

    A man walks into a butchers shop asks the butcher "Are you a gambling man?"

    The butcher says, "Yes".

    The man says, "I bet you fifty dollars that you can't reach up and touch that meat hanging on the hooks up there."

    The butcher looks up at the meat hanging on the hooks. He says, "I'm not betting on that".

    "But I thought you were a gambling man," the man retorts.

    "Yes I am," says the butcher, "but the steaks are too high".

    April 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
  3. bobcat2u

    A truck driver was driving down the highway when he saw a priest at the side of the road. He stopped to pick up the priest and give him a ride.

    A while down the road the truck driver saw a lawyer on the side of the road. He turned the truck on a direct course with the lawyer. However, remembering that a priests was in the truck with him, he swerved at the last moment to miss the lawyer.

    However, the truck driver heard a loud thump outside of the truck, and he looked in his rear-view mirror.

    He turned to the priest and said "Sorry Father, I just missed that lawyer at the side of the road."

    The priest said, "Don't worry son, I got him with my door."

    April 29, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
  4. The Truth

    The 77 cent on the dollar statistic is false and has no credible source. That bogus study does not take into account that men tend to work longer hours, don't take maternity leave, and perform the deadliest jobs on earth which pay better than most jobs. Oil rig workers can make 100k with only a high school education, but it's extremely dangerous and physically demanding. Unless all those factors have been equalized in the study, you're comparing apples to oranges.

    April 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm |
  5. bobcat2u

    Two gas company servicemen, a senior training supervisor and a young trainee were out checking meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their truck at the end of the alley and worked their way to the other end.

    At the last house, a woman looking out her kitchen window watched the two men as they checked her gas meter.

    Finishing the meter check, the senior supervisor challenged his younger coworker to a foot race down the alley and back to the truck to prove that an older guy could outrun a younger one.

    As they came running up to the truck, they realized the lady from that last house was huffing and puffing right behind them. They stopped and asked her what was wrong.

    Gasping for breath, she replied, "When I see two gas men running as hard as you two were, I figured I'd better run too!"

    April 29, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
    • dazzle ©

      Ending my day with a laugh. Well done @bobcat.

      April 30, 2014 at 12:15 am |
  6. palintwit

    Bristol Palin's next novel should be hitting bookstore shelves soon. Her recent memoirs about her life as a drunk, pregnant teenager sold an astounding 1,500 copies and buoyed by this success she has worked very hard to write the sequel. Her adoring public expects no less because after all, those Palins aren't quitters.

    April 29, 2014 at 1:50 pm |
    • So true

      Book signing at a trailer park near you.

      April 29, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
  7. Kim

    "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."

    That's a problem. Madmen isn't reality. It's an abstract "sensationalized" version of reality brought to us by a showrunner who was only a child when the show takes place. The author should reexamine their perspective.

    April 29, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
  8. The GOP Prayer

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    April 29, 2014 at 4:41 pm |
  9. chrissy

    @ The Truth, WHEN were YOU a woman in the workforce??? Ive worked harder and longer than most men i know and my maternity leave was my 2 week vacation! Not to mention ive supported myself since i was 14 AND went to school. And in my adult life i always worked 2 and even sometimes 3 jobs! So you can run your superiority crap to the dump where it belongs!

    April 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
  10. chrissy

    And as for YOUR oilrigging job being the deadliest...i beg to differ! Soldiers have the deadliest jobs and by the way, we have women soldiers now in case you hadnt heard!

    April 29, 2014 at 11:02 pm |
    • sixthromeo

      That hasn't happened, a woman in the military is not a infantryman or combatant. So far all women who began training for both leadership and other combatant skills failed, that include the last woman who withdrew because her bones fractured under stress.

      May 4, 2014 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Clayton Lockett

    I was in the Navy.

    April 29, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
  12. Susan

    There need to be at least two things happening – more women in the workplace AND recognition that those engage in chic are and regular housework also deserve pay. There is a pervasive underappreciation and lack of monetary compensation for the work that happens at home.

    May 2, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
    • Doctor R

      And who will pay those people, men and women alike, to do their own housework? And should men be paid for doing the yard work? Will working people with paid jobs have to give up part of their pay to subsidize people working at home?

      Do you really believe that working women will be willing to pay higher taxes so that other women- and men- can stay home?

      Dream on.

      May 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm |
    • you need a hug!

      You need a hug Susan. Welcome to the club. The spouse that stays home never gets appreciated or paid. But if the spouse that works, leaves, they get screwed with child support and spousal support payments. The problem with so many millions of American women is that they are demanding way too much crap, when they already have more of a good deal than women from every single other country on planet earth! Maybe we should send you to north-eastern Nigeria, so that Boko Haram can straighten you out!

      May 6, 2014 at 12:31 am |
  13. but who's watching the kids?

    It's politically correct to urge more women to get into the workplace, but who's watching the kids? Women were doing an awesome job, for millennia, staying at home, doing housework chores and raising the next generation of human beings. Pushing more-and-more women into the workplace might look great for a nation's GDP, but our kids are growing up parent-less, with no discipline, eating terrible food and addicted to iGadgets! We might be barreling towards a cliff with no clue about the impending doom.

    May 2, 2014 at 9:22 pm |
  14. sixthromeo

    Women in the workplace, the significant increase of women in the hospitality industry, hotel/motel management, party planning. Remove the shallow from women in the workplace and you will find more women accepted in the workplace.

    May 4, 2014 at 7:01 pm |
  15. Eddie Fonseca

    During the sixties and seventies a band called America had a hit song called A Horse With No Name, it was described about a journey about horse and it's rider and their journeys they had been on just like, women's rights in America it's still a long journey for their freedom in the workplace and having more women in the workforce. Being an American who works in the automotive trades field, and seeing the ageing and retiring older workers in our fields we should encourage young women to become parts personal and mechanics because they have a great eye for detail. Now hold up man, I am not saying there other fields which could use a hell lot's of women workers from Health Care, Automotive and the Heavy Truck field, Office Workers and maybe the banking industry as well. Our workforce in America is becoming more diversity and men and women should be really treated equal just like in Europe, yeah sure we live in the land of the free and Capitalism rules our lives like a stick of butter. Without more women entering the workforce in the good old USA, will women have the same chances of becoming a world famous basketball player or the next head or major corporation for years to come.

    August 20, 2015 at 12:40 am |
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