Friday, July 07, 2006

Female Labor Force Participation

Every year it seems, the NYTimes or some other major media outlet writes an article about how more and more women are abandoning the work force to stay home with their children. The problem with such stories is that they are basically just made up. The data don't support this hypothesis:
Contrary to popular theory, Labor Department data do not show a rising proportion of women dropping out of the workforce to spend time with their families. Indeed, the participation rate has fallen since 2000 for both women with children and women without children.

While non-working women are still much more likely than men to cite "home responsibilities" as their reason for not holding or seeking a job, that's actually less true now than it was in the past. The share of women aged 25 to 54, considered to be in their "prime" working years, who gave that reason for not seeking employment has shrunk for more than a decade. The share of men citing that reason has edged up over the same period, according to a Labor Department analysis of census survey figures from 1990 to 2003.

Oh well, the need to move beyond anecdote and really understand long term trends in the labor force outcomes of highly talented and educated women has kept me employed this year. To read more about the basic trends in labor force participation among highly educated women, check out Claudia Goldin's (one of my co-investigators on the Harvard and Beyond Project) recent op-ed in the NYTimes.

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