Men and women alike have lost millions of administrative office jobs to outsourcing overseas and computer automation. But new data reveal that, over the last two decades, the losses for women have been three times greater than those experienced by men.

Administrative assistants, bookkeepers, clerks and other positions dominated by women – dubbed "pink-collar" jobs – were historically a pathway to the middle class. But that work is vanishing along with blue-collar jobs in factories, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Wednesday. And the losses have hit women much harder, according to new data

Men lost 1 million administrative and assembly-line jobs between 2000 and 2019, while women lost 3.5 million such jobs, the data show. A big chunk of the job losses for women happened around 20 years ago, the Fed said. More than 10 million women held pink-collar jobs in the early 2000s, but now only 7.5 million occupy those roles, a decline of more than 25%. 

"We were very surprised by these findings," said Richard Deitz, a Fed economic researcher who co-authored the study. "It's not something we've heard a lot about."

The Fed's study squares with other research showing that jobs historically dominated by women are increasingly vulnerable to automation. About half a million office and administrative jobs are expected to disappear in six years, according to a recent analysis from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. About 400,000 of those are held by women, researchers said.

"The jobs most commonly held by women — cashiers, secretaries, and bookkeeping clerks, for example — face some of the highest risks of becoming automated in the future," the IWPR concluded. "And while men are not immune to the risks of technological change, women are even more likely to work in jobs where technology and automation threaten to displace them."

Administrative assistants are projected to suffer from the biggest job losses of any profession through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Automation could force between 40 million and 160 million women globally to find new careers outside of administrative office roles in the next decade, according to a 2019 McKinsey report

Deitz said the outlook for pink-collar jobs isn't totally bleak, with about 20% of employed women currently working in those jobs. But the data should signal that "people need to look for ways to expand their skills to take what jobs are available," he said.

As pink-collar jobs have faded, women gravitated to medical-oriented careers in nursing, occupational therapy and physician assistance, New York Fed researchers found. Men displaced by outsourcing or automation have taken to new jobs in areas like law, software development and chemical engineering. 

The Fed bank researchers said there has been plenty of attention given to men losing their manufacturing jobs to automation, but little focus on how automation has impacted women. With a closer look, "It appears that the loss of these kinds of routine jobs may have been even more consequential for women than men," Deitz wrote in a blog post.