McKinsey and’s recent “Women in the Workplace” report found that as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, about one in four women nationwide are considering scaling back their careers or leaving the workforce completely. The big concern? Since its inception six years ago, the study has found modest gains for women in senior vice president and C-suite positions (though representation remains far below parity, to put it kindly). A loss of women in the workplace might set these small victories back since it would likely mean a loss of women at the top of companies, as well as a loss of women working their way up to become future leaders.

On the national level, the outset of 2020 saw women overtake men as holding the majority of jobs, most likely because the then-dominant hiring sectors — health care and retail — typically employ more women. As we have seen, both sectors experienced a huge and sudden surge in unemployment (or, a loss of jobs) at the outset of the pandemic. In its own analysis, the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that job loss, changes in how work is handled and distance learning, among other things, have conspired to hit women harder in this recession than in previous economic downturns.

So what might our own labor force look like if women are now placed in a position where opting out feels like the best option? The dashboard below takes a look at women’s labor force participation rate from 1980 to today with the goal of understanding how women’s entry into the workforce and presence in the labor market has grown over time.

Using the tool

The dashboard is divided into two sections: The first compares men’s and women’s labor force participation rates over time, and the second section maps these rates at the county level.

  1. Both sections default to show the percent of the population 16 and older in the labor force, and the map defaults to displaying this indicator for women in 1980.
  2. In the time series, you can change the indicator you’re looking at as well as select the geography of interest by using the buttons to the right of the map.
  3. In the map section, you can change the year, gender and indicator by using the buttons on the right.
  4. The sections operate independently of each other, so remember to update an indicator of interest in both sections of the dashboard.
  5. We’ve included the percent of the civilian labor force that is employed and unemployed to make it possible to understand unemployment over time. However, keep in mind that the denominator for this data is the civilian labor force, not the total labor force.

Keep scrolling to see a few things we learned from the tool.

What we observed

From the time sequence:

  1. In the 10-county area, women’s labor force participation rate increased sharply between 1990 and 2000. Men’s labor force participation rate, on the other hand, began declining beginning in 1990.
  2. Paradoxically, at the county level, many individual counties saw their biggest jump in the female labor force participation rate between 1980 and 1990. In 1990, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett actually saw the region’s highest labor force participation rates.
  3. In 1980, DeKalb County had the then-highest female labor force participation rate at 62 percent. This is on par with the rates of several counties in the 2014-2018 rolling averages, and higher than both Fayette and Rockdale’s 2018 female labor force participation rate.

From the map:

  1. In 1980, the highest female labor force participation rate was in DeKalb County, at 62 percent.
  2. The highest female labor force participation rate ever, in the study aream, was in Gwinnett in 1990, at 71.8 percent. The male labor force participation rate also hit its high water mark in Gwinnett in 1990, at 88 percent.
  3. By 2000, all counties except Rockdale had a female labor force participation rate above 60 percent. Rockdale’s was close, at 59 percent.
  4. By 2018, most counties saw a slight decline in their female labor force participation rate, though all but Fayette and Rockdale remained above 60 percent.