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Chart Book (6th edition): Labor Force Characteristics - Women Workers in Construction and Other Industries

19. Women Workers in Construction and Other Industries

The number of women employed in construction has grown over the last 30 years, peaking at 1.1 million in 2007. However, it dropped by 28% during the economic downturn, and while it climbed back to 917,000 by 2015, women employment in construction is still 18% lower than the 2007 peak (chart 19a).1 Despite overall growth, women continue to be underrepresented in construction, accounting for around 9% of the construction workforce in 2015 (chart 19b), only up one percentage point from 1985. In contrast, almost half (46.8%) of all workers in the U.S. were women in 2015, up five percentage points from 1985. These numbers reflect both the increase of women in the overall labor force over time,2 as well as continual gender segregation in the labor market.3,4

Gender imbalance is more pronounced among production (blue-collar, see Glossary) occupations. In 2015, only 2.4% of production workers in construction were women, which was significantly lower than in manufacturing (23.6%) and in all industries (14.1%; chart 19c). By detailed occupation, almost 43,200 women worked as unskilled construction laborers and helpers in 2015. About 179,000 women were employed in skilled trades, including painters, foremen, carpenters, electricians, truck drivers, repair workers, heating and air-conditioning mechanics, and operating engineers (listed in order of decreasing percentages of women; 3% of women construction workers were painters and 0.5% of women were operating engineers).5 The small share of women in the construction trades has been the target of federal policies for a number of years, such as setting goals for women enrollment in apprenticeship programs.6 However, women may still face many barriers to entering and staying in the construction field, such as gender stereotypes in certain occupations, harassment, and differential treatment on job sites.7

Although gender differences in construction remain, the proportion of women in production occupations increased from 16.5% in 1985 to 19.6% in 2015 (chart 19d). In manager and professional positions, women’s share has more than doubled, from 15.8% to 34.6% during the same period. Meanwhile, the proportion of women with clerical and support jobs has decreased. These changes may be partially due to advanced technologies and innovative management that have reduced the need for administrative support while increasing the demand for managerial and professional skills in construction.8 Improvements in education and job competency among women may also have contributed to this shift.3

Within construction, a smaller proportion of women (20%) than men (25%) were self-employed in 2015. Only 9% of the women in construction were unincorporated self-employed, compared to 17% of men in this employment category.9 However, a slightly larger proportion of women in construction were incorporated self-employed (11%) compared to men (8%). Men and women in construction appear to have similar patterns in terms of whom they work for; roughly 75% of women and 71% of men work for private employers, while about 4-5% of each were government employees. In addition, less than 1% of women worked without payment (usually for family businesses) in 2015.               

Women’s labor force participation rates are expected to remain high in the overall workforce. It is projected that the number of women employees in the U.S. will increase by more than 4.2 million between 2014 and 2024, accounting for 47.2% of all employment.10


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Production workers – In this chart book, the term represents blue-collar workers. From the Current Population Survey: all workers, except managerial, professional (architects, accountants, lawyers, etc.), and administrative support staff. Production workers can be either wage-and-salary or self-employed work.


1. All numbers cited in the text, except for those where noted, were from the Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.

2. U.S. Department of Labor. 2015. Civilian labor force by sex.  (Accessed November 2016).

3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. BLS Reports. Women in the labor force: a databook. (Accessed November 2016).

4. Catalyst. 2015. Women in male-dominated industries and occupations. (Accessed January 2017).

5. When broken down into specific occupations, the sample size is too small to be statistically valid. Therefore, use these numbers with caution.

6. Hegewisch A, O’Farrell B. 2015. Women in the construction trades: Earnings, workplace discrimination, and the promise of green jobs. (Accessed November 2016).

7. National Women’s Law Center. 2014. Women in construction still breaking ground. (Accessed November 2016).

8. Wright S. 2016. 6 ways construction technology has transformed the industry. (Accessed November 2016).

9. This chart book counts both incorporated and unincorporated workers (independent contractors, independent consultants, and freelance workers) as self-employed. However, “self-employed” in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) publications generally refers to unincorporated self-employed, while incorporated self-employed workers are considered wage-and-salary workers on their establishments’ payrolls.

10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. Employment projections – 2014-24. Table 1: Civilian labor force, by age, gender, race, and ethnicity, 1994, 2004, 2014, and projected 2024. (Accessed November 2016).



Chart 19c – Industries not shown in the chart include Agriculture, Mining, Finance, and Public Administration since the statistical samples were too small.

Chart 19d – See page 11 for occupations. Figures are 12-month averages. Totals may not add to 100% due to rounding.



Charts 19a and 19d – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 and previous years Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.

Charts 19b and 19c – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.


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