March 31st 2016 - Written by: Suzan Reagan

Unemployment Rate Trends for Men and Women

The trends in unemployment rates for men and women since 1948 tell a story of how the world of work has changed. The chart below uses monthly data from 1948 to 2016 of the labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey Unemployment Rate for the US population 20 years and older.


In 1949 the unemployment rate spiked for men at the end of World War II. From then until the early 1980’s men’s unemployment rates remain lower then women’s. In the nineteen-eighties the gap between men’s and women’s unemployment rates decrease. This reflects the greater labor force participation rates seen for women over this time.  However, from 1980 forward through times of high unemployment, men’s unemployment rates tend to be higher then women’s with it being dramatically so during the Great Recession. The difference for the Great Recession can be attributed to the industries that saw contractions — primarily construction — employed more men. Those industries that were less likely to have experienced contractions for the Great Recession such as healthcare and education tended to have a greater proportion of women employed. The unemployment rate trends for men and women reflect underlying employment tendencies within industry mixes and labor force participation changes. Further data and reading on labor force demographics are available on the Bureau of Labor Statics website at .

The Current Population Survey is a monthly survey conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey has its basis in the needs of better measures of employment and unemployment during the 1930’s. The Census Bureau has been conducting this survey since 1942, making it an excellent tool for looking at national employment trends over time. There are a few notes to take into consideration as this is a survey and concerns on sample size and other survey errors do occur. The Census Bureau provides excellent technical documentation on how the survey is conducted at In addition to the publications from the Bureau of Labor Statistics the Census Bureau also provides a lot of publications  and data access at

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