by Rachel Vilsack

If you follow business trends, you might already know that Minnesota has some of the hardest-working women in the country. The labor force participation rate of women averaged 67 percent in 2010, eight percent higher than the national average, according to data (.pdf) produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only two states – Nebraska and North Dakota – had a higher women’s labor force participation rate in 2010.


Women as Business Owners

Minnesota women don’t just work in businesses, they own them too. One in four Minnesota businesses is owned by a woman. Women-owned businesses are found in every industry sector in Minnesota. The health care and social assistance sector had nearly 23,000 women-owned firms in 2007, the latest year for which data are available. This sector includes child day care services, one of the largest types of non-employer firms in the health care sector.  Large numbers of Minnesota women also owned firms in the professional and technical services, retail trade, and other services sector, which includes personal care services such as hair and nail salons.


Not surprisingly, the types of firms owned by women are in industries most likely to employ women. In 2010, the highest concentration of women was employed in:


  • Healthcare and social assistance (79.1 percent)
  • Educational services (68.6 percent)
  • Finance and insurance (61.8 percent)
  • Other services (56.0 percent)
  • Accommodation and food services (56.0 percent)


Women Go to College

While the occupational choices of both men and women may vary, women are more likely than men to pursue postsecondary education. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics projects that women will earn 60 percent or more of all associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees awarded by 2016. Consider this: During the 2007-2008 school year, women were awarded by Minnesota schools:


  • 62 percent of associate degrees
  • 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees
  • 70 percent of master’s degrees
  • 56 percent of doctoral degrees


What makes the rise in educational attainment for women significant is that projections reveal that the fastest-growing jobs will require higher levels of education. And education pays – in terms of lower unemployment rates and higher wages.


Women & Future Workforce Needs

The role of women in Minnesota’s economy cannot be overlooked. They make up a majority of the state workforce and are well-positioned for future job growth:


  • Women dominate employment in education and health care services, the two sectors that grew in Minnesota during the recession. Those two sectors are projected to grow the fastest in the state between 2009 and 2019, adding an estimated 120,500 jobs. Not only will women fill many of those jobs, but they will have a hand in creating them.
  • A national report also estimates that women-owned small businesses will be responsible for one-third of new employment by 2018, or 5 million jobs.
  • It has been widely reported that women fared better than men during the early part of the 2007-2009 recession, because industries like education and health care services grew. Male-dominated fields, like construction and manufacturing, witnessed the largest employment declines during the recession.


If you’re still interested in this topic, stay tuned.  Minnesota Women in the Labor Force – Part 2: What Do They Do? will look at the traditional and non-traditional career paths for women. Pay may be an important factor when making a career decision too. Minnesota Women in the Labor Force – Part 3: How Much Do They Make? will look at pay and income differences between men and women. 


Rachel Vilsack ( is the Coordinator of Special Projects for Minnesota’s Labor Market Information Office at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.