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Copyright 1993 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning

Is There Equality for Women in Wyoming's Labor Force?

by: Mariann Johnston

Across the United States women are playing a larger role in the work force and the state of Wyoming is no different. Even though Wyoming's labor force decreased between 1980 and 1990 by 18,020 workers, the number of females in the labor force increased by 8,876 persons. In 1980 37.3 percent of the labor force was comprised of women and in 1990 the proportion had increased to 44.4 percent.

In the May issue of TRENDS a table was published illustrating the growth of female employment related to total employment by industry. All eight of the major industries: Mining, Construction, Manufacturing, Transportation & Public Utilities, Trade, FIRE (Finance, Insurance, & Real Estate), Services, and Government increased in the number of women employed between 1990 and 1992. But industry based employment estimates are sometimes deceiving. For example, a women might work in the Mining industry as a bookkeeper.

This article, on the other hand, takes a closer look at occupational trends in conjunction with women’s roles in Wyoming’s labor force. Is the progress women have made in the labor force due to the fact that women are beginning to work in occupations not traditionally held by females, or are the so called “pink collar” occupations becoming a larger proportion of Wyoming’s labor market? According to Public Law 102-235 signed by the President in December 1991, any occupation with less than 25 percent women is defined as non-traditional employment for women. “Pink collar” occupations are a “certain select group of traditionally held female jobs.” For purposes of this article, traditional female occupations are defined as occupations in which 75 percent or more of the incumbents are women.

Table 1 compares selected occupations from the 1980 and the 1990 census. Occupational classifications have been grouped and labeled in terms of the trends occurring in the occupation and the proportional changes women made in these occupations. The occupations used are based on the 1980 and the 1990 census of the population. The occupations listed in the 1990 census were more detailed than the 1980 census. The list in Table 1 are the occupations which matched for both the 1980 and 1990 census.

The largest category of occupation, "Growth”, increased as a proportion of the total labor force, while female employment in the occupation increased at a faster rate than total employment did for the occupation as a whole. For example, health assessment and treating occupations increased from 2,773 persons employed in 1980 to 3,601 (29.9%) in 1990. The female employment increased in health assessment and treating occupations from 2,309 women in 1980 to 3,140 (36%) in 1990. Both the number of people employed and the number of women employed in the occupation increased. As a relative share of all occupations, health assessment and treating grew 0.5 percent, while the percent of women in health assessment and treating increased from 83.3 percent to 87.2 percent. Female employment increased at a faster rate than the occupation increased. This is one example of women entering occupations that advanced over the last ten years.

Approximately one-third of the “Growth” occupations are non-traditional occupations for women, showing some progress towards breaking the barrier of males dominating these occupations. Another one-third of the “Growth” category employed more than half female employment in 1990. For example, 92.0 percent of the employment for librarians, archivists and curators was women in 1990. This group of occupations increased its portion of the labor force by .05 percent. At the same time women increased their share in these occupations from 86.9 percent in 1980 to 92.0 percent in 1990. Women continued entering traditional occupations as the demand for these occupations increased.

The next most common category of occupational trends listed in Table 1 is the “Default” category. There are two parts to the “Default” category. In the first part, occupations which lost employment saw women’s employment proportionately increased. Most of these occupations are non-traditional occupations for women or have low female representation. In most cases both men and women left the occupation. Women, in general less mobile than their male counterparts, left these occupations at a much slower rate. For example, Wyoming’s Mining industry employment decreased over the last ten years. Extractive occupations followed the same trend, decreasing from 10,347 persons in 1980 to 4,451 persons in 1990. Thus, while total employment in mining decreased, the percentage of women increased from 2.7 percent in 1980 to 3.6 percent in 1990.

Reasons for the lack of upward mobility among women often stem from the traditional roles women play in American families. First, families tend to move when the male of the household relocates. After relocating, the woman may find a job in the locality. Second, the number of single families has increased in Wyoming forcing females to find jobs to support their families. Many times these jobs are occupations in the “Default” category.

In the second part of “Default” occupations, the employment decreased while the number of women employed in the occupation increased. Women played a larger role in these occupations even though the demand for the occupations declined. For example, Managerial occupations declined over the last ten years, but still employed 7.5 percent of the labor force in 1990. Female employment rose from 30.7 percent of managerial occupations in 1980 to 38.2 percent in 1990. Women increased their share in an important occupation.

The “Traditional” category lists occupations that increased, while female employment in those occupations increased at a slower rate. These growth occupations employed more than 65 percent women. “Traditional” female occupations became a larger percentage of Wyoming’s labor market. Although occupations traditionally dominated by females are growing, women appear to be less likely to be found in them.

The next category, “Dead-end”, lists occupations that declined in Wyoming. The percentage of women declined or did not significantly change. Among these occupations are skilled labor occupations, secretaries, communication equipment operators, and mechanics. Most of these occupations were replaced by automated systems requiring more technical support than skilled labor. Female workers dominate five of the eight “Dead-end” occupations.

The final category, “Opportunity” occupations, increased as a proportion of the labor force, but female employment decreased. These occupations offer women employment in non-traditional occupations for women. This is one growth area in which women have not made any progress. Occupations such as: machine operators and tenders, and police and detectives hold potential employment opportunities for women in Wyoming.

Women have made progress in the labor force in terms of increasing numbers employed. Most of the progress has occurred in growth occupations, and female employment now represents a larger proportion of these occupations. Occupational distribution addresses a portion of the issues women face in the labor force. Other important questions in the labor market revolve around the struggle for equal wages, equal recognition and equal opportunity for women in the work place. Unfortunately, there is little accurate information available to properly evaluate these issues.

It appears that women recognize the need to train in this ever-changing labor market and branch out into growth areas even if it means into less traditional, female-oriented occupations. Women add different perspectives to influence many aspects of America’s productivity. As women become a larger portion of the labor force, it is important they stay abreast of the occupational opportunities available. As these labor force trends continue, women’s employment becomes more important in the United States’ economy.

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Last modified on June 8, 2001 by Valerie A. Davis.