09/04/2014 05:04 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

Tech Revolution or Gender Revolution: Which Has Had a Greater Economic Impact?

The technology revolution has profoundly changed the way we live and work. How's that for stating the obvious? At the risk of channeling my grandmother, this is noteworthy for someone who grew up in the age of fax machines and VHS tapes.

A simple example of the ubiquity of the tech revolution is the incredible computing power and connectivity we now have in the palm of our hands. Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union predicts that 2014 is the year that the number of in-use cell phones will surpass the number of people on the planet. Now that surprised me.

But the technology revolution isn't just about the coolest gadgets and how many of us have them. Over the last three decades, technology has significantly altered our economic landscape, as well as social conventions and public policy. Yet I would argue there is another revolution in the same period that has had an even greater impact on the American economy: women's participation in the workforce.

Throughout the same three decades, the steep rise in the number of women in the workforce has strengthened household incomes and the U.S. economy overall. To put this revolution in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), a group of economists using Census Bureau data determined that without the increase in women's paid work, GDP would have been roughly 11 percent lower in 2012.

Comparing that to the 6 percent contribution to GDP of the information, communications and technology-producing industries combined in 2012, women's increased participation in paid work, contributed almost twice as much to GDP.

According to the economists' calculations, if women's employment patterns had remained unchanged, American households overall would have substantially lower earnings today. Additionally, GDP output would be, in today's dollars, $1.7 trillion less -- that's roughly equivalent to the combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in 2012.

That's huge.

Considering that women earn less than men in nearly every occupation -- 77 percent of men's pay is the widely reported figure -- their contribution to GDP is even greater. Despite this shift in labor patterns, basic U.S. labor standards, developed under the assumption of a one-income family, have been slow to adjust. Reconciling work and family demands is a challenge for many working women. And, unfortunately, motherhood is often blamed for the gender pay gap.

Women now make up almost half of the total U.S. labor force -- the 2012 figure from the U.S. Department of Labor puts the number at 47 percent. So, for the sake of the economy, let's hope the gender revolution continues. And for the sake of women and families, let's make sure the next phase of this revolution addresses the persistent gender pay gap.