After suffering steeper job losses than men in the Covid-19 recession, many women have quickly regained their footing in an economy benefiting from record-low unemployment.

Labor force participation among women between the peak working ages of 25 and 54 has nearly fully recovered, according to government data released last week. at 76.9%the proportion of women in that age group who were working or actively looking for work in January essentially returned to its pre-pandemic level of 77%.

The uptick comes after 13.6 million women, or 18% of the entire US female population, they lost their jobs during the depths of the pandemic. Those losses were greater than those of the 11.9 million men who lost their jobor 14% of the US male population, during the same time period.

Men of full working age, by contrast, have yet to experience a full recovery. While labor force participation among men ages 25-54 exceeded the rate among women in the same age group, at 88.5% in January, it was still below the February 2020 level of 89, 2%, according to federal data.

The American workforce looks different today than it did before Covid-19 crashed into the global economy.

Overall labor force participation of all workers ages 16 and older remains below pre-pandemic levels, largely due to a wave of retirements as the workforce continues to age. (Experts say deaths during the pandemic and immigration policies have also contributed.) And while many older workers have re-entered the workforce in search of income as the economy recovers, federal lawmakers and economists anticipate that millions of recent retirees will never be able to reverse course and return to the labor market.

But among women in their prime working years, employment gains appear to be strong. The Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, estimated this month that 993,000 more mothers worked in December 2022 than the previous year, underscoring the role that women with relatively younger children are playing in the recovery. Once they stayed home due to limited child care options and other factors, more women have returned to work amid the reopening of schools and the availability of covid vaccines for children.

Beth Almeida, principal investigator for CAP, said that female labor force participation had already been trending upwards before the pandemic, suggesting a pent-up enthusiasm to return to work as the health crisis abated.

“Women, after really fighting for a lot of the gains and having opportunities in the workplace, they weren’t going to walk away from it,” she said.

Another big factor in the rebound: a booming economy teeming with employers seeking workers in most corners of the job market. The number of job openings remained well above pre-pandemic levels through the end of 2022 as government data showed employers sought to fill about 11 million positions, leaving approximately 1.7 jobs for every person looking for work. Until last month, the overall unemployment rate was 3.4%a low not seen since 1969.

But recent job gains for women have not been spread evenly, and those with less education continue to face disproportionate barriers to finding work.

While the number of employed women with four-year college degrees is above pre-pandemic levels, CAP found that there were fewer women without college degrees at work today than there were in February 2020. Women with less education also had more likely to have suffered job losses during the pandemic, given the impact of economic shutdowns on lower-paid service workers.

Almeida said the high cost of child care is the biggest burden for low-income workers. “If you can’t get affordable child care, even if there are a lot of jobs, you can’t work one,” he said. Women in higher-paying jobs are less likely to face that trade-off.

However, as CAP noted in its February report, “regardless of age or parental status, women were five to eight times more likely to [than men] experience a caring impact on their employment in 2022.”