Working women

Date posted: May 9, 2013

At one time, women were moving into the paid labor force at rapid rates. Now that trend appears to have come to an end.  Why? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden answers.

“Let me give you some statistics on this. In 1970 the percentage of women age 25 to 54 who were in the labor market was only 50 percent. Today it is up to 74 percent.

“Now it is still less than for men. For men, it’s 90 percent, but there’s been virtually no change. In fact, a slight decrease in the labor force participation of men compared to this enormous increase for women.

“However, in recent years we’ve actually seen that labor force participation rate for women peak and then move down slightly. So, women are not moving in at increasing rates to the labor force. Again, why?

“Well, several factors are at work here. First of all, we see labor force participation down across the board for men and women, all ages. I think this has to do with an aging population, some workers not having the right kinds of skills for jobs that are available. But also for women, women are spending more time in school, and I think some women — not all, but some women — are taking a new look at this trade off that I think really is pertinent for women, this family-work trade-off.

“To what extent does a young woman, for example, spend time working versus spend time with the family. This has been an issue that women have had to face over decades. So I think the bottom line here is that probably the big gains, the big increases in labor force participation by women, those are probably over, and women for various reasons now are taking a new look at whether to be in the paid labor force.”

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