Over the last two and a half years, over 400,000 women have dropped out of the labor force.
The staggering number is worrying and indicative of a larger and more interesting trend: As employment opportunities remain dismal, especially for millennials, young women are choosing to go to school to get more qualifications instead of getting a job. In fact, there are more young women enrolled in school now than there are in the work force.
The shift in what young women are doing is interesting not only because it is telling about the current, gendered economic situation, but also because it predicts the changing role of women in our future economy.
This trend – particularly the gendered aspect of it, where women, not men, are choosing to return to school – reflects the differences in opportunities for young men and women in the workforce. Data shows that in the 2.5 years since the recovery began, men between the ages of 16 and 24 have gained 178,000 jobs, whereas women in the same category have lost 255,000 jobs.
The numbers say it all – it isn’t just harder for young women to gain employment compared to young men, these women are actually losing jobs while their male counterparts are gaining employment.
Further, the earnings gap – the fact that women earn disproportionately less than men – is an additional incentive to pursue more education that could lead to higher paying jobs, especially in today’s economy, where job options are few and far between.
It is easy to understand why young women are going back to school in the current, dire economic climate, and the effects of this trend are going to have an incredible impact on the role women play in tomorrow’s economy and workforce: They will be more employable, more qualified, and more likely to be the driving force behind economic booms.
Perhaps for the first time ever, women in our generation might be more qualified, maybe even more employable, than their male cohorts.
Some have predicted that this return to school could result in an economic boom since people are getting better qualifications and improving their skills, similar to when World War II veterans returned from war and went to school with the help of the G.I. Bill, instead of searching for jobs. If true, women could be the driving force behind an economic boom, drastically changing their role in the economy.
These broad economic predictions, of course, might not hold, but the overarching effects of women going back to school are significant and should not be ignored: By gaining more educational qualifications, young women might be able to go from being paid and employed less to being more qualified and getting better jobs than their male counterparts.
Photo Credit: Mays Business School