Read it here first: NILFs, Women, and the declining Labor Force

In case you missed it, there was a front page NYT story on Women’s decreasing work force participation.

We have covered the issue of NILFs and decreasing labor force participation rates repeatedly over the past year.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

“For four decades, the number of women entering the workplace grew at a blistering pace, fostering a powerful cultural and economic transformation of American society. But since the mid-1990’s, the growth in the percentage of adult women working outside the home has stalled, even slipping somewhat in the last five years and leaving it at a rate well below that of men.

While the change has been under way for a while, it was initially viewed by many experts as simply a pause in the longer-term movement of women into the work force. But now, social scientists are engaged in a heated debate over whether the gender revolution at work may be over.

Is this shift evidence for the popular notion that many mothers are again deciding that they prefer to stay at home and take care of their children?

Maybe, but many researchers are coming to a different conclusion: women are not choosing to stay out of the labor force because of a change in attitudes, they say. Rather, the broad reconfiguration of women’s lives that allowed most of them to pursue jobs outside the home appears to be hitting some serious limits.


I find it to be more economic than attitudinal in nature:

“To be sure, mothers’ overcrowded lives have not been the only factor limiting
their roles in the work force. The decline in participation rates for most
groups of women since the recession of 2001 at least partly reflects an overall
slowdown in hiring, which affected men and women roughly equally.

“The main reason for women’s declining labor-force participation rates over
the last four years was the weakness of the labor market,” said Heather Boushey,
an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research
institute in Washington. “Women did not opt out of the labor force because of
the kids.”

To be fair, the decline did begin “well before the economic slump a few
year ago.”




Stretched to Limit, Women Stall March to Work
NYT, March 2, 2006

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. DJ commented on Mar 2

    Even if the female (age 24-54) participation rate continues to decline to say, 65% it still represents a revolution compared to 35% immediately after World War II.

    I believe the recent decline has a lot to do with rising health care costs and changing societal norms about child supervision. As a member of the 1980s “latch-key” kids, I just don’t think parents are legally allowed to raise kids today, the way many of us were raised twenty years ago.

  2. Jonathan commented on Mar 2

    Interesting. I think restricting the cause to only “financial” or “attitudinal” arguments is too constraining in its ability to explain the reduction in workforce participation by women. Based on my experience with my own wife and our friends, it really is a combination of both factors.

    Financially, we have seen that when childcare costs are factored into the equation, the “net” pay of a mother in the workforce is very much reduced. The question is always asked, “for so little, why do I do it?”

    Socially, we have seen a marked increase in the desire of women (and some men) we know to stay home with the kids because of the obvious long term benefits of strong daily interaction between parents and children. The argument against this is weak. The temptations for latch-key kids today are so much more insidious than those of 30 years ago.

    I find it very honorable for a working mom to say “enough is enough”, and hang up the career for the children. Goodness knows the job at home is much harder than that at a paying job! But the rewards are much, much greater!

  3. David Silb commented on Mar 2

    I don’t care what the chart says! My wife better not tell me she’s staying home because “all her other friends are doing it.”

    Seriously, I agree people are finding it harder to get ahead even with two incomes, especially when one income is eaten up by taxes and costs of daycare, household cleaning etc. Also people are truly afraid for the future for their kids. They see a more competitive workplace (Global Economy haters unite!) and feel its real important someone watch whats happening in the home as it pertains to kids education.

    I truly believe we practice an entirely too antagonistic relationship between workers and management. Business and Labor better learn that the boat they ride in is the same and if they start working on the bilge pumps pretty soon the boats gonna sink and it won’t matter anymore.

    I think we need to figure out how to stay ahead of the rising competition. Productivity is great, but you can’t be productive if your not producing. Outsourcing is good but it is not the only solution. Ford and GM plan to lay off workers and the other carmakers plan to hire the equilvent number of these workers in plants scheduled to be built. Huh? Crisis. in the Auto industry! How about poor planning by managment too focused on the stock market and its reaction to quarterly earnings reports.

    Or what about the United Airline workers who “bought” into the comapny only to watch it go into bankrupcy and emerge wiping out the former stockshares leaving the employee stockholders with nothing.

    I think the erosion of wages and equity for a greater global good is retarded. Competitive marketplace is great. Stripping wealth out of the populous will have lasting negative effects.

  4. Anon commented on Mar 2

    How does this compare to the statistics that women are disproportionately getting admitted into college and have been for some time? Some piece of the data is inaccurate.

  5. royce commented on Mar 2

    Maybe a lot of women finally figured out that work sucks and if you don’t have to do it, don’t bother.

  6. quints commented on Mar 2

    This is strictly an opinion, but the difficulty in finding any decent childcare programs and the rediculous cost of such make it very attractive for some women to opt out when they have small kids. I agree with the Latch Key statement above. We weren’t worried about getting snatched off the street when my generation was 8 or 9 years old, but it’s a different world now. I think a LOT of mom’s can’t be away from the kids full time. Also, once you make that choice, you may find your family can survive without you working full time, so you don’t necessarily go back to work very soon…

  7. Kevin Smith commented on Mar 2

    Why have children if you are going to let people being paid 6 dollars an hour to raise them. I’m middle class (between 30,000 to 80,000 dollars a year) and my wife stays home. I would never rob her of the joy of staying home with our children.

  8. Kaleberg commented on Mar 2

    This trend is part of a larger trend of people moving out of the work force in general, largely because the Bush tax cuts have hammered the economy. Since George W. Bush came into office, fewer and fewer Americans are even considering working, which has helped keep the unemployment rate under control, but if the economy ever starts growing again, perhaps in response to the expiration of the tax cuts, you’ll see moms, minorities and the early retirees coming out of the wood work.

  9. donna commented on Mar 3

    We already pay AMT – what incentive do I have to work?

  10. RP commented on Mar 3

    Many latch-key children are now parents; in case it’s not obvious, latch-key children are less than 100% enthusiastic about latch keys and day care because the shoe was already on the other foot. Being a full-time parent (and leaving the workforce, a career, and good pay) is a serious sacrifice…but many newer parents know what it means to their child to make that sacrifice – from direct experience. That direct experience is something prior generations did not have as a counter balance.
    I think it’s a dampening function that’s going to swing back and forth as it zeros in on some equilibrium level.

  11. DJ commented on Mar 3

    I don’t think the change over time regarding latch-key kids has anything to do with the safety of our society. In fact, I think society was much more dangerous from the mid-70s to the mid-90s (probably because of all those latch-key kids running around).

    Crime and danger are not the reason for the societal change on this. I think RP is correct on the reasoning.

  12. DJ commented on Mar 3

    We pay the AMT also. Our incentive to work is the 72% we get to keep.

  13. careless reader commented on Mar 5

    Oh you wrote NILF, not MILF.
    Got excited for a moment.

Posted Under