Economic class, race, and gender shape the opportunities, the privileges, and the inequalities experienced by individuals and groups. The United States continues to be greatly stratified along these three lines.

Capitalism also takes advantage of gender inequality. Women workers are often used as a source of cheap labor in informal economies, or employment domains that are not regulated by governments and law enforcement. For example, women work for low wages without health benefits as nannies and maids in New York, in clothing sweatshops in Los Angeles, and on rose farms in Ethiopia. In formal economies, women often receive less pay and have less chances for promotion than men. This phenomenon is referred to as the gender gap in employment.

Current U.S. labor force statistics illustrate women’s changing role in the labor force. For instance, since 1971, women’s participation in the labor force has grown from 32 million (43.4% of the female population 16 and over) to 68 million (59.2% of the female population 16 and over). Women also make, on average, $17,000 less than men do. Women tend to be concentrated in less prestigious and lower paying occupations than men, particularly those that are traditionally considered women’s jobs or pink-collar jobs. Women’s participation in the labor force also varies depending on marital status and social class.