A Century of Women in the Workplace

Family History, Lifestyle
22 August 2017
by Ancestry

How has the role of women in the workplace changed over the last century?

Ancestry looked at census data for over 250 occupations from 1900 to 2014 to find out.

Some of the trends may surprise you. It’s even possible they’re part of your family story.

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Women Have Made Strides in Workplace Equality

The census data clearly shows women have a way to go before reaching parity in the workforce.

However, in some cases the gender gap has shrunk. In fact, in nearly half (46%) of the 250+ occupations in the census data, the percentage of women increased by at least ten percent.


Finance is one historically male-dominated field where women have made some advances.

Bank tellers went from being 2% female in 1900 to 88% female by 2014.

Chart showing percentage of female bank tellers in 1900 and 2014.
Women in 1900 were only 2% of bank tellers — frequenting the bank only to make deposits. In 2014, they made up more than 88% of the profession.

The percentage of accountants and auditors who were female increased 675%, from just 8% in 1900 to 62% in 2014.


In STEM professions included in this census study, women remain the minority across the board. However, there have been large strides made in certain careers.

Industrial engineers were only 2% female in 1900. By 2014, there were 18 times as many female industrial engineers, representing 38% of the total.

The percentage of female chemical engineers increased 433%, from 3% in 1900 to 16% in 2014.

Medical and Health

Medical and health professions are also seeing a shift.

Only 2% of pharmacists were female in 1900. By 2014, over half (54%) of pharmacists were women.

Chart showing percentage of female pharmacists in 1900 and 2014.
More than a century ago, pharmacists were predominantly men. In 114 years, the profession saw more than 2,000% increase in women.

Most doctors today are male, much like in 1900. But whereas only 5% were female in 1900, today 35% are female – an increase of 600%.

Historic Gender Gaps Holding Steady in Some Cases

While gender roles have evolved significantly in the last few generations, a number of traditionally female jobs have remained dominated by females.

In 1900, if you went to see nurse, chances are your nurse was female, as 94% of professional nurses were female.

Chart showing percentage of female nurses in 1900 and 2014.
In 114 years, nursing didn’t see much fluctuation and remains a predominantly female profession.

Fast forward to 2014, and you were still most likely to see a female nurse, as 90% of professional nurses were female.

Teachers are another great example. In 1900, 74% of teachers were female.

Chart showing percentage of female teachers in 1900 and 2014.
Teaching, almost 75% women in 1900, is still around the same percentage female more than a century later.

Over 100 years later, in 2014, 77% of teachers were female.

Similarly, many majority male professions have remained male.

Mechanics, for example, were 99% male in 1900. By 2014, the vast majority of mechanics (98% ) were still male.

How Will You Be Inspired?

Overall, women still have a long way to go, particularly in certain areas such as STEM.

But even in the professions with the largest percentage of males, pioneering women have been slowly changing the course of history.

And some of them may have been in your family.

How will the wage earners in your family’s past inspire you?