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Education Resources

Federal Reserve Lessons Connecting Women and Economics

group picture of womenOn August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, officially became part of the U.S. Constitution. In celebration of women's suffrage, in 1971, Congress designated August 26 as Women's Equality Day. While the right to vote gave women a voice in choosing their leaders, American women still struggle for equality in other areas of life.

Women and political office in the United States
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States ranks 85th out of 151 countries as of June 1, 2014, for the percentage of women serving in the lower legislative "house"—which, in the United States, is the House of Representatives. Only 18.3 percent of the representatives are women, compared to 40 percent at that level in South Africa, 36.5 percent in Germany, and 20.7 percent in Pakistan. Although the United States was the ninth country globally to grant women's suffrage, it has never had a female leader. Forty-nine other countries have elected a female president or prime minister.

Women and economic conditions in the United States
The United States ranks fifth on the United Nations Human Development Index, but it ranks 47th out of 150 countries on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index. Our country ranks just below Bahrain (46) in this area and does slightly better than Tunisia (48). One major component of the inequality index is the economic status of women in the labor market. As of 2010, American women earned 81.2 percent of what men earned across all job categories.

The following charts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrate some of the data related to women in the labor force. The first shows the ratio of women's earnings to men's earnings in several career areas as well as the overall percentage. The second chart shows the concentration of women in various career categories.

Chart 1

Chart2

As the nation observes Women's Equality Day on August 26, consider using a lesson about women and the economy in your classes. The Federal Reserve has several lessons connecting women and the economy. We describe a handful below, along with a lesson from another source.

Lessons from the Federal Reserve

Barbie in the Labor Force
Since 1920, women have more than doubled their share of the labor force. More women are working, but has the type of work they do advanced similarly? What were the top occupations for women 20, 60, and 100 years ago, and how do those occupations compare with women's choices today? In this lesson, students use primary documents to review historical trends in women's share of the labor force and chosen occupations. Using Barbie careers as a timeline, they speculate as to why Barbie represented certain careers for girls at different points in time since 1959. They choose which career Barbie might represent next year and explain that choice in a one-page essay. This lesson includes primary source documents obtained from FRASER®. There are full lesson procedures, handouts, whiteboard files, and a PowerPoint presentation. (Text source: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman
In this lesson, students read the story of Sojourner Truth and discuss events that took place during her lifetime. Among these were the abolition of slavery and the effects of policies pertaining to abolition. Students will determine the costs, benefits, and unintended consequences of policies, beginning with an analysis of costs, benefits, and unintended consequences of a policy that would allow them to take two years off of school before advancing to middle school. They will analyze the effects of policies noted in the book and continue the analysis by examining government policies. There are full lesson procedures and handouts. (Text source: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story
Students read the story Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story and learn about effects of apartheid in South Africa. They also learn about the relationship between investment in human capital and income by examining several careers and the skills required for those careers. Using math skills, students compare the number of people in various occupations and interpret and analyze educational attainment data from graphs and tables. The story highlights the working conditions faced by women of color in South Africa under Apartheid and the economic legacy of Apartheid policies. There are full lesson procedures, a whiteboard file, and handouts. (Text source: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

Lessons from other sources

Women and Work in American History: The Opportunity Cost of Staying Home
This lesson is from the Foundation for Teaching Economics. In this activity, students assume the roles of married women in the 1930s and 1940s in the United States. As they play their roles, they confront and learn to identify the opportunity costs involved in choosing whether to stay home or go to work. Successive rounds of the activity incorporate changing societal values and wage rates, both of which alter the benefits of the alternatives women face and thus influence their choices about whether or not to enter the labor force and take jobs outside their homes.

By Sherilyn Narker, economic and financial education specialist, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

August 22, 2014