Statistics –– collected and imagined

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—by Susan Eisenberg

       Happy 37th! April marks another anniversary of the 1978 federal regs that opened construction jobs to women. An Op Ed I wrote 2 years ago “Women in trades still waiting for fairness” has recirculated, and with that, questions about how we know the percentage of women in the trades.

Luckily, the Department of Labor keeps count, and posts data on their Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It can be a little confusing, so here’s a Step by Step, with matching pictures on the left.

1. Go to A great website to explore!

2. Scroll down the home page to the bottom. In the TOPICS box at bottom left, click on Demographics.

3. On the DEMOGRAPHICS page, data’s separated into categories. Click the first link: Demographic Characteristics of the Labor Force (Current Population Survey).

4. That brings you to the Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey page. A big gray box has an alphabetical list of categories like Age or Disability. Second from the end, click on Women.

5. This jumps you down that page to lots of statistics about women in the labor force. The second bullet down will say: Annual Tables. Click the (PDF) link Employment by Detailed Occupation and Sex and you’ll have the 2014 chart! The 2nd column gives the % of women in each trade.
Protective Service occupations (fire, police) are on pg 4.
Construction and extraction (mining) are on pg 7.

If you scroll down a bit more and open Annual report: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, you can find data from previous years and compare. For example, women were 2.1% of electricians in 1994, and 2.4% in 2014.

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It’s imperfect (surprise!). Not everything’s counted and some get lumped together. We don’t know if the number of women Plumbers has doubled in the last 20 years, or there are lots of Pipelayers. But it’s a great starting-point. And reminds us that real change is yet to come.

WISH LIST! I’D LIKE TO SEE the BLS count Apprentice and Journeylevel separately, so we could know the stats on journeylevel careers — which after all, is the point. I doubt Medical Students count as Doctors.

KEEP YOUR OWN STATISTICS. Most change happens locally, regionally or in a union. Talk with friends and allies and plan a research project to track change yourselves. Same principle as asking someone to show their check. Some ideas: 1. Track the yearly earned pension hours for an apprenticeship class — comparing male and female — as they move forward in their careers. 2. Track and compare the pensions or pension hours of women who started different years. 3. Track the number of women who run jobs and the money they oversee.

Find out if things that matter are improving. Sometimes just knowing someone’s looking can encourage better results.



  1. Susan, this is great!Thanks for the step-by-step how to. We’ve had such a hard time in the past getting stats from the feds. I really wanted to include up-to-date stats in my book Hard-Hatted Women when it was republished in the 1990s, but wasn’t able to dislodge them. I couldn’t figure out if these guys just didn’t know how to use computers or if they weren’t keeping stats or if they just didn’t want anyone to have them.


    1. Thanks, Molly, glad you could follow! & hope it’s useful for the Women Build the Nation conference. Putting this together, we realized that Construction occupations is a SUBHEADING under different HEADINGS different years. So, you can’t just go alphabetically to “C”, you have to scroll down occupational groupings until you find the one that includes Construction.
      Working on We’ll Call You, I remember talking to a wonderful guy at the BLS who guided me over the phone to find the stats I wanted. That inspired this post. I don’t think the service exists anymore.


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