Less work

The Washington Post had a nice article on labor force participation in the business section last Friday.  While the headline focused in on women — "Whither the Women?" — the article actually adds some useful perspective to the whole "opt-out" discussion.

Key points:

  • Men’s labor force participation has been declining since 1949!  The article suggests that this is due to a combination of more time spent in school and pensions and social security allowing men to retire.  There’s presumably also a story about low-skilled men who are neither in school or working.
  • Women’s labor force participation rose steadily until around 1990, and then rose more slowly until 2000.  It’s now down about a percentage point from its peak.
  • This doesn’t seem to be a story about moms not working, as the participation rate has declined for women both with and without children.  (Heather Boushey at CEPR has also made this point.)  The share of women who give "home responsibilities" as the reason for not working has also declined.

Some of the reasons that men are working less also apply to women — in particular, women are staying in school longer than men.   The generation of women which has been most work-oriented is just starting to hit retirement age, so that’s likely to reduce labor force participation (if they can afford to retire). And women tend to live longer, and so are likely to spend more years out of the workforce in retirement.

By the way, the "recent analysis" by demographer Cheryl Russell appears to be a post in her blog.  Not that you could tell by reading the article. 

2 Responses to “Less work”

  1. Sidebar-for the other half of the human race Says:

    Interesting article and stats. Thanks for sharing. And, good call on the blog post. Wonder what the need to mislead was?

  2. Jennifer Says:

    I thought I’d come and comment (at the time I thought you had said it all!). When I tried to find these kind of statistics in Australia, for a post a while ago, I seemed to find the same effect (all women working less, with mothers with children not declining any faster), but didn’t actually mention it, because I didn’t believe it because none of the professional researchers reporting on the data had mentioned it!
    I’ll have to go back one of these days, and check it out again.

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