Center for American Progress

Playbook for the Advancement of Women in the Economy

Playbook for the Advancement of Women in the Economy

This collection of policy recommendations reveals how policymakers can grow the economy by centering the changes that women need in their economic platforms.

In this article
The sun rises behind the Empire State Building in New York City as a woman walks her dog along the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, on September 25, 2021. (Getty/Gary Hershorn)


Introduction and summary

Women are drivers of the American economy. This was made clear in 2023, when U.S. growth was powered by both women’s spending1 and their historic labor market gains. As consumers,2 women are projected to control two-thirds of discretionary spending by 2028.3 This spending was highlighted in the media and economic reporting last year as women boosted the economy through substantive spending on events such as Taylor Swift4 and Beyonce concerts and the record-breaking5 movie “Barbie”6—pop culture phenomena that, according to economists’ analyses, amounted to significant contributions to local economies. As workers, women were the primary drivers of the strong labor market,7 and the share of women ages 25 to 54 who are employed reached a record high of 75.3 percent in 2023.8

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But more needs to be done to further improve women’s economic standing; as the country prepares itself for the 2024 general election, candidates should shape their policy agendas to do so. And as the U.S. population ages and becomes more racially and ethnically diverse,9 it is increasingly urgent that policymakers capture the needs created by these changing demographics.

This report—a “Playbook for the Advancement of Women in the Economy”—serves as a blueprint for federal and state policymakers that promotes women’s economic prosperity. An economy that delivers for women is an economy that delivers for all. After discussing women’s economic contributions and current economic reality, the report provides a brief summary of the areas on which federal and state policymakers should focus; these policy areas and recommendations are then explored in greater depth in each subsequent chapter.


Women continue to be held back in the economy and consequently face economic insecurity throughout their lives. For instance, since the end of the 20th century, the rate of progress on closing the gender wage gap has slowed.10 If the gender wage gap continues on its path from 2000 to 2022, it would take until 2067 for it to close for women working full time, year-round.11

If the gender wage gap continues on its path from 2000 to 2022, it would take until 2067 for it to close for women working full time, year-round.

As federal and state policymakers look to the economic challenges of the future, from an aging population to the need to increase labor supply, they have to ensure that women are centered in their decisions. Doing so is not just the right—or politically savvy—thing to do, but ultimately it will mean that the nation can better tackle these complex problems. For instance, women ages 65 and older are projected to make up 13.2 percent of the population by 2060. (see Figure 1) Women are likely to continue to be the largest voting demographic in the 2024 elections—historically, raw numbers of voter turnout among women 45 and older exceed that of younger age and gender groups.12

If the United States had kept up with its peers in the G7 from 1990 to 2022 on labor force participation for women ages 25 to 54, there would have been 4.8 million more women in the labor force in 2022.13 This failure to keep up with peer nations has cost the United States a loss of 5 percent in potential growth in gross domestic product.14

The economic contributions of women

In a little more than a century since women won the right to vote in the United States,15 substantial progress has been made in policy to expand economic opportunities for women and make the economy both stronger and more inclusive. Landmark policy wins, such as The Equal Pay Act of 1963,16 Title VII,17 and Title IX, prevented women from being discriminated against in school and in work,18 allowing them to make substantial educational gains and enter into fields they had been shut out of in the past.19 Likewise, the invention of new contraception methods in the 1950s and their proliferation throughout the 1960s and 1970s, along with the constitutional right to an abortion guaranteed in 1973 due to Roe v. Wade,20 allowed women to make massive strides in their attachment to the labor force, wages, education, and more. (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2) Women’s employment has dramatically improved since the 1940s and 1950s, as has women’s labor force participation,21 and in 2023, employment rates for women ages 25 to 54 reached record highs.22 (see Figure 2)

The economic reality of women

Despite these gains, women continue to experience economic inequities—from wages that are too low to costs that are too high—and do so at every stage of their lives. The underutilized economic capabilities of women leave them and their families with a precarious future and limits the United States’ economic potential.

From their very first day on the job, women are faced with the economic reality of the gender wage gap, meaning they typically earn less than men—a reality that continues, and often compounds, throughout the course of their working lives and retirements. (see Chapter 5) And Black women and Latinas not only tend to experience the largest pay gaps, but also must manage the economic consequences of a racial wealth gap that leaves them and their families facing persistent economic insecurity. (see Figure 3)

Recent attacks on women’s reproductive decisions through abortion restrictions and limiting contraceptive access are grave public health concerns, and they pose threats to women’s economic outcomes that will suppress the overall U.S. economy for years to come. (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2) When women are faced with the care responsibilities of life—including caring for children, themselves, or a family member—they experience a crushing reality of added financial costs and greater limits on their time. Many do not have the job security and financial protection that comes from being able to use paid leave or having affordable, accessible, and high-quality child care or elder care. (see Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 6) The care needs of older adults—which are often provided by women, and overwhelmingly women of color—will become increasingly important as the population ages.

Young girls and women are often locked out of well-paid jobs or industries, which contributes to the gender wage gap and limits their economic potential. Today, women remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce, which is often touted as holding the jobs of the future. (see Chapter 8) Similarly, women continue to be in the minority in well-paying construction and manufacturing jobs, which generally do not require a college degree. (see Chapter 8) Many women are unable to exercise their right to organize, further preventing them from accessing good jobs. (see Chapter 9)

Moreover, despite some advancements in legal protections for women in the workplace, many women, particularly Black women and Latinas, still experience harassment at work, as well as discrimination in pay, promotion, or hiring. (see Chapter 7) Older women also face gender and age discrimination in the workplace. (see Chapter 11) Given that older women will also make up a larger share of the labor force in the future—nearly 12 percent by 2031—their economic contributions must be valued.23 And disabled women, immigrant women, and women affected by the legal system all face specific barriers that prevent them from equitably participating in the labor market. (see Chapter 10, Chapter 12, and Chapter 13)

To varying degrees, this economic reality is a result of—and contributes to—the United States being an outlier in women’s labor force participation among many of its global peers. Most notably, the labor force participation of women in the United States ages 25 to 54—the age group most likely to be working—is lower than every other G7 economy, except Italy. (see Figure 4) While peer countries have made progress in women’s labor force participation over the past few decades, the United States has been relatively stagnant. For example, in 2022, labor force participation for women in the United States ages 25 to 54 was 76.4 percent, similar to rates experienced in 1990. In stark contrast, all other G7 economies saw at least around a 10 percentage-point increase from 1990 to 2022.

Simply put, improving the economic reality of women can have outsize positive impacts on the economy at large.

Women’s economic reality is not just costing them and their families, it is costing the U.S. economy. Women’s low—even suppressed—wages represent income that could have been spent or invested, driving economic growth. (see Chapter 5) When women cannot take the paid time off they and their families need to provide care, many are forced to stop working or reduce their work hours, either permanently or temporarily, which in turn reduces the economy’s labor supply. (see Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 6) When women cannot choose to have a family at the time that is right for them, their earnings, educational attainment, employment prospects, and more are hampered. (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2) When women are not safe and free from discrimination and harassment in their own workplaces, the entire economy experiences the costs of high worker turnover. (see Chapter 7) When women are not able to participate equitably within all jobs or industries, employers lose out on the productivity-enhancing benefits of a diverse workforce. (see Chapter 8) Simply put, improving the economic reality of women can have outsize positive impacts on the economy at large.

Policy recommendations

Federal and state policymakers have an opportunity to create a new reality for women that expands their economic opportunities and, by doing so, invests in the U.S. economy. Policymakers would be well served by understanding and communicating how women drive the economic circumstances of their families and the economic growth of the country. The “Playbook for the Advancement of Women in the Economy” contains a suite of policy options readily available for policymakers to guarantee family planning and care, deliver good jobs, and build a labor force to meet the demands of the country’s future.

Guarantee family planning and care:

  • Protect and increase abortion access (see Chapter 1) by making it more affordable through the repeal of the Hyde Amendment,24 which restricts abortion payments from public insurance such as Medicaid, and improving privacy and legal protections both for people receiving and providing this care.
  • Ensure contraception options are accessible and affordable (see Chapter 2) through measures that include expanded coverage options for telehealth and over-the-counter birth control, expanded prescribing authority for pharmacists, and investments in and protection of Title X.25
  • Provide affordable, accessible, and high-quality child care (see Chapter 3) by building the supply of child care, reducing the costs facing families and ensuring the sector is filled with good-quality jobs.
  • Ensure families have the resources to care for older adults (see Chapter 4) as the population ages, including by expanding home and community-based service coverage through Medicaid to reduce families’ out-of-pocket expenses for care, ensuring family caregivers do not have to choose between caregiving and work, and ensuring professional providers with specialized skill sets are paid livable wages.

Deliver good jobs:

  • Close the gender pay gap, (see Chapter 5) including by raising the minimum wage to at least $17 per hour,26 passing pay transparency laws, improving funding for anti-discrimination enforcement, and banning the use of salary history in hiring decisions.27
  • Guarantee comprehensive, inclusive paid family and medical leave and sick time28 (see Chapter 6) for all workers to use for themselves and their loved ones by passing the FAMILY Act,29 the Healthy Families Act,30 and state level protections.
  • End discrimination and harassment at work (see Chapter 7) by strengthening existing protections, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act,31 and improving funding for enforcement agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Expand access to male-dominated jobs (see Chapter 8) through investments in workforce development strategies such as registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs and reducing financial barriers to higher education.
  • Protect and strengthen the right to organize (see Chapter 9) to create better-quality jobs for workers by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.32

Build a labor force for the future:

  • Address the labor supply challenges of the future with immigration (see Chapter 10) to ensure that the health care sector has enough nurses and direct care workers to meet increased needs; that health care workers, including immigrants, have high-quality jobs; and that immigration pathways are streamlined.
  • Ensure older women can freely participate in the labor market (see Chapter 11) by adequately addressing age discrimination in the workplace, providing older women with more education and training opportunities, and implementing skills-based hiring practices.
  • Support women affected by the legal system (see Chapter 12) by removing barriers to employment through the passage of record expungement measures and support for fair chance employment practices, as well as by ensuring these women have access to education and training opportunities and reentry support in order to promote personal economic mobility and boost overall economic productivity.
  • Eliminate barriers to employment for disabled women (see Chapter 13) by ensuring they are not kept in a cycle of poverty, including through the elimination of subminimum wages and Supplemental Security Income asset limits,33 and ensuring that their workplace accommodations, health, and leave-taking needs are met.

A comprehensive policy agenda that accounts for the full array of issues that uniquely affect women is a policy agenda for the whole economy’s advancement. It is imperative that policymakers’ platforms in 2024 deliver for women, because doing so will deliver for all.


The authors would like to thank Shanée Simhoni, Christian Rodriguez, Lauren Vicary, Sarah Nadeau, Colin Seeberger, Bela Salas-Betsch, Molly Weston Williamson, Kierra Jones, Maureen Coffey, Mia Ives-Rublee, Silva Mathema, Akua Amaning, Beth Almeida, Kennedy Andara, Anona Neal, Amina Khalique, Lily Roberts, Sabrina Talukder, and Emily Gee.


  1. Vanessa Yurkevich, “Taylor Swift, ‘Barbie’ and Beyoncé are unleashing the spending power of women,” CNN, August 9, 2023, available at
  2. Sarah Krouse and Anne Steele, “Women Own This Summer. The Economy Proves It.”, The Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2023, available at
  3. Nielsen, “Wise up to Women,” March 2020, available at
  4. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Beige Book – July 12, 2023” (Minneapolis: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 2023), available at
  5. Box Office Mojo, “Barbie,” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  6. Rose Khattar and others, “What Barbie Can Teach Us About the Gender Wage Gap,” Center for American Progress, July 26, 2023, available at
  7. Lauren Bauer and Sarah Yu Wang, “Prime-age women are going above and beyond in the labor market recovery” (Washington: Brookings Institution, 2023), available at
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment-Population Ratio – 25-54 yrs., Women (Series ID: LNS12300062),” available at;jsessionid=A883FB4D0A7395CB724549E2A49ACB9E (last accessed December 2023).
  9. Beth Almeida and Sara Estep, “Five Facts on Older Women in the Labor Market,” Center for American Progress, May 23, 2023, available at; American Association of University Women, “The Future Workforce: More Diverse than Ever,” available at (last accessed December 2023)
  10. Rose Khattar and Sara Estep, “What To Know About the Gender Wage Gap as the Equal Pay Act Turns 60,” Center for American Progress, June 8, 2023, available at
  11. Authors’ calculations using Table A-7 from U.S. Census Bureau, “Income in the United States: 2022,” September 12, 2023, available at
  12. Center for American Women and Politics, “Gender Differences in Voter Turnout,” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  13. In 2022, for women ages 25 to 54, the number in the labor force was 49 million and the number in the population was 64 million with a labor force participation rate of 76.4 percent. Authors then assumed if women ages 25 to 54 experienced a 10 percentage-point increase in their labor force participation (the minimum experienced by peer nations) from 1990 to 2022, their labor force participation rate would have been 84 percent in 2022 as opposed to 76.4 percent. Based on that and a constant population, that would mean the number of women in the labor force would need to be closer to 54 million, an increase of 4.8 million. Authors’ calculations using Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “LFS by sex and age – indicators,” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  14. Authors’ calculations. The increase in the number of women in the labor force would have represented a 5 percentage-point increase in labor force participation for those ages 25 to 54 using OECD data. Economic growth is the sum of labor force growth and productivity growth, and assuming hours per worker stay the same and productivity growth does not change, there is a 1 to 1 relationship between labor force growth and economic growth. Heather Boushey, Lisa Barrow, and Kevin Rinz, “Supporting Labor Supply in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan,” The White House, May 28, 2021, available at
  15. National Archives, “19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote (1920),” available at,decades%20of%20agitation%20and%20protest (last accessed December 2023).
  16. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “The Equal Pay Act of 1963,” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  17. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” (last accessed December 2023).
  18. U.S. Department of Education, “Title IX and Sex Discrimination,” available at; U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” (last accessed December 2023).
  19. American Association of University Women, “Title IX,” available (last accessed December 2023).
  20. PBS, “A Timeline of Contraception,” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  21. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Labor Force Participation Rate – 20 yrs. & over, Women (Series ID: LNS11300026),” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  22. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment-Population Ratio – 25-54 yrs., Women (Series ID: LNS12300062),” available at;jsessionid=A883FB4D0A7395CB724549E2A49ACB9E (last accessed December 2023).
  23. Almeida and Estep, “Five Facts on Older Women in the Labor Market.”
  24. Maggie Jo Buchanan and Tracy Weitz, “Hyde’s Restrictions on Abortion Are Unacceptable,” Center for American Progress, August 5, 2022, available at
  25. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, “Title X: Nation’s Program for Affordable Birth Control and Reproductive Health Care,” available at (last accessed December 2023).
  26. Diana Boesch, Robin Bleiweis, and Areeba Haider, “Raising the Minimum Wage Would be Transformative for Women,” Center for American Progress, February 21, 2021, available at Rose Khattar, Sara Estep, and Lily Roberts, “Raising the Minimum Wage Would Be an Investment in Growing the Middle Class,” Center for American Progress, July 20, 2023, available at
  27. Center for American Progress, “Advancing Pay Equity in Governmentwide Pay Systems,” Comment letter, June 9, 2023, available at
  28. Link to Paid Leave chapter
  29. Molly Weston Williamson, “Getting To Know the New FAMILY Act,” Center for American Progress, July 12, 2023, available at
  30. Molly Weston Williamson, “Getting To Know the Healthy Families Act,” Center for American Progress, September 5, 2023, available at
  31. National Partnership for Women & Families, “The Paycheck Fairness Act,” March 2023, available at
  32. AFL-CIO, “What Is the PRO Act?”, available at (last accessed December 2023).
  33. Justin Schweitzer and others, “How Dehumanizing Administrative Burdens Harm Disabled People” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2023), available at

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Rose Khattar

Former Director of Economic Analysis, Inclusive Economy

Sara Estep

Associate Director


Women’s Initiative

The Women’s Initiative develops robust, progressive policies and solutions to ensure all women can participate in the economy and live healthy, productive lives.

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