Women and Men Both Experienced Changes in Occupations During COVID-19

Women and Men Both Experienced Changes in Occupations During COVID-19

Women and Men Both Experienced Changes in Occupations During COVID-19 940 547 Morris County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC)


Women and Men Both Experienced Changes in Occupations During COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic led to major changes in employment for all types of U.S. workers, but these changes looked different for women and men.

Some employees transitioned to remote or hybrid work, while essential workers faced hazardous conditions in the workplace. Many workers had to adjust their schedules or leave their jobs. And sudden shifts in demand for goods and services led to fluctuations in employment across different occupations, leading to different changes for men and women.

Overall, full-time, year-round employment declined by 4.4 million workers from 2019 to 2021, according to the Census Bureau’s 2019 and 2021 American Community Survey’s Women and Men’s Detailed Occupations and Median Earnings Tables.

Men lost more of these jobs than women but continued to outnumber women in the labor force. Women’s losses were concentrated in service and retail sales occupations, while men’s were distributed across a broader range of occupations, including construction, transportation, service and sales.

Some occupations grew during the pandemic. Both men and women’s job gains were mostly in the broad category of management, business, science and arts occupations in which men were paid 26% more than women, on average.

In recognition of Equal Pay Day on March 14 and Women’s History Month, this article examines differences in occupational employment shifts for women and men during the COVID pandemic.

Different Occupations for Women and Men

Despite reduced occupational segregation over time, women and men continue to be separated in different kinds of work and receive unequal pay.

Men are much more likely to work in natural resources, construction and maintenance, as well as production, transportation and material moving occupations. And women are more likely to work in: sales and office; service; and management, business, science and arts occupations.

This segregation means that changes in the labor market affect men and women differently.

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of women working full-time, year-round declined 3.4%, and men’s employment declined 4.1%.

Figure 1 shows the total change in employment for all occupations and where these changes were concentrated for men and women. Only one major occupation group (management, business, science and arts) saw employment gains; the other four categories experienced dips for both men and women.

Figure 1. Changes in Full-Time, Year-Round Employment by Sex and Occupation: 2019-2021

Women’s job losses were concentrated in service occupations (a decline of 1.4 million workers) and sales and office occupations (a decline of around 839,000 workers). Men’s losses were more evenly distributed across the occupational categories.

Declines for Women, Mostly Service and Retail

When looking at detailed occupations, the numbers highlight specific kinds of jobs that declined and grew for women between 2019 and 2021.

Service occupations were among those with major declines in women’s employment, including:

  • Maids and housekeeping cleaners (an occupation that was 83% women in 2021) declined 31% among women.
  • Occupations related to food service – waiters/waitresses and cooks (68% and 41% women, respectively) – also saw significant declines for women (39% and 22%, respectively).
  • Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists (90% women) declined 35% among women.
  • Nursing assistants (88% women), many of whom were employed in nursing care facilities, decreased 15% among women.
  • Child care workers (94% women) declined 23% among women, as many day care and child care centers closed during the pandemic.

Women retail workers were also heavily affected. Cashiers, retail salespersons, and supervisors of retail workers all decreased from 2019 to 2021.

Service and retail sales occupations tend to involve face-to-face work, and many of the organizations that employed these workers closed or experienced reduced demand during the pandemic. These workers also tend to earn significantly less than the median earnings among all full-time, year-round workers ($54,339 in 2021).

Figure 2. Selected Occupations With Biggest Decreases, Increases in Women's Full-Time, Year-Round Employment: 2019-2021

While women’s overall employment numbers decreased, some occupations expanded from 2019 to 2021. Many were in management, business, science and arts – occupations that tend to pay more than the median earnings for all workers.

Examples include elementary and middle school teachers (median earnings $55,272 among women), project management specialists ($88,411), and financial managers ($72,352).

Many of these occupations likely allowed remote work and flexible schedules, making it easier for both men and women to accommodate pandemic-related health and family needs.

How Men Fared

Men’s decreases in employment were more spread out across four occupational groups: service occupations; sales and office occupations; natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations; and production, transportation and material moving occupations.

Among jobs with steep declines: cooks, carpenters, truck drivers and retail salespersons (Figure 3). Men’s earnings in these occupations tended to pay less than the median across all workers.

Men saw increases in highly paid jobs like software developers and engineers (median earnings of $122,738 and $104,517, respectively, for men in 2021) and low-paid occupations like couriers/messengers and stockers/order fillers (median earnings of $40,384 and $31,648, respectively, for men).

Like women, most gains were in management, business, science and arts occupations, though the specific occupations with the biggest increases differed for men and women.

Figure 3. Selected Occupations With Biggest Decreases, Increases in Men's Full-Time, Year-Round Employment: 2019-2021

Continued Disparities Between Men and Women

Although men lost more jobs than women from 2019 to 2021, they continued to outnumber women among full-time, year-round paid workers: 61.7 million compared to 47.8 million.

In addition, men continued to earn more than women overall and in many of the occupations that grew during the pandemic. For example, among business operations specialists, an occupation that experienced large employment increases for both men and women, women’s median earnings were $60,982, compared to men’s $80,204.

The bottom line: overall, employment declined between 2019 and 2021. But the nature of the changes differed and inequalities persisted between men and women.

The full extent of the impact of the pandemic on employment is still unknown, but the ACS data provide a snapshot of the disparate changes to the labor market for women and men.

Article Courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.