Composition of the US Labor Force by Marriage and Parenting Status

Here’s what I’ve been working on this week:


This is pretty different from the usual way these numbers are presented, which is based on families rather than workers.  (Remember, if half of the families with children have an at-home spouse and the other half is dual income, only 1/3 of the workers will have an at-home spouse.)

For what it’s worth, the furthest back I was able to come up with
roughly comparable numbers for is 1975, when 41.5 percent of the
workforce were parents, and 35 percent of the working parents had an
at-home spouse.


I’d love some feedback on these graphs — what interests you?  Surprises you?  Is the second one too many slices to be easily interpreted?

Update:  I’m responding in the comments. But I also want to register my fury that Microsoft in Excel 2007 has made it impossible to apply patterns to different slices on a pie chart so that you can tell them apart when you print them in black and white.

Update 2: Ok, here’s one that shows part-time vs. full-time.


22 Responses to “Composition of the US Labor Force by Marriage and Parenting Status”

  1. dave.s. Says:

    The first one is an interesting way to look at things. The second is too many slices, even though the information sort of ought to be interesting.

  2. Jennifer (ponderosa) Says:

    SIX percent of the workforce has an at-home parent? SHOCKING. I would have guessed it to be much higher, at least 20%. How do all those people function? Is everyone else on the verge of a nervous breakdown, like me?
    The problem with the 2nd graph is that you’re trying to show three variables but only have one indicator, color. I don’t know if this is possible with Excel but what if you put a space between the two halves, like a cracked egg? Then that would show one variable (gender) and you could use color to show a different variable, maybe marital status. You could create a symbol for the third variable, which you could lay on each relevant slice — maybe a baby’s face. OK that’s hokey. But anyway.

  3. Elizabeth Says:

    Some of the married childless workers have spouses who are not in the labor force — should I be showing those as well? (I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I suspect that they’re mostly older couples — you get both women who haven’t been in the labor force in years, and men who have retired.)

  4. jim Says:

    Full-time vs. part-time split would also be informative. There’s a lot of one and a half income couples where she works when the children are in school.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I agree with Jim, because I suspect I’m the answer to Jennifer’s question– we don’t have an at-home spouse, but I work part-time across the street from my kids’ school, so that’s why we’re only going a little crazy :). I know more than a few other families like ours at our school too, so I think we might be worth a pie chart slice :).

  6. Amy P Says:

    Only 36% of workers have kids? That’s surprising. Can that be right?

  7. Rachel Says:

    I agree that it would be interesting to see the breakdown of FT v. PT, maybe on a separate chart. It might also be interesting to track the ages of kids. I know a lot of women (and a few men) are at home when their kids are very young, but re-enter the workforce later.

  8. Elizabeth Says:

    I can break down the data in the second chart by age of child, age of worker, and unemployed/FT/PT workers (note that the universe for both of these is the “labor force” which includes unemployed workers). I can’t get at part-time vs. full-time in the first chart, because I created it by matching data from two different tables that the Census issues.
    And yes, only 36 percent of workers have children *under 18, whom they live with*. Should I add that clarification to the chart?

  9. Jennifer Says:

    I was surprised how few workers have children, as well. And I agree that the fulltime part time split of the workers without an at home spouse would be very interesting.
    I think the data’s pretty available, so I’m going to try and do this for Australia also – it would be interesting to see how different we are.

  10. K Says:

    I was surprised by only 36% having children, until I realized that most people probably work for nearly 40-50 years and technically only have “children” for 18 of those. Am I reading that right?

  11. K Says:

    Whoops – should have read all the comments before I posted that! You answered it already!

  12. amy Says:

    36% sounds right to me. Remember that only 25% of US households, or something close, have minor children.
    I also think the part/full divide would be enlightening, as would a single/partnered divide. As would an single/never-single divide.
    That last makes a difference in the crazy department. I’m nervously eyeing my freelance ed markets; I’m watching people have trouble finding work, and while I’m somewhat insulated by writing science, I’m screwed if I have to find an actual job. Nobody will be available to pick up my daughter from school routinely, and so far I haven’t been able to get her pushed up the 3-year waiting list into her before/after-school program. Nor, if I got a fulltime job, would I have the flexibility to rely on unreliable sitters or SAHM friends to pick her up daily and take her to her daycare. I’m beginning to wonder if I should apply preemptively for financial aid to the private school — I don’t think the ed’s any better there, and A. would lose out on having to compete with 20 kids for a teacher’s attention, but she’d be guaranteed a before/after-school spot.

  13. Sarah Says:

    It took a few minutes to understand the first chart–in that the non-working parent is not in the labor force and thus not on the chart, right? I work a very part-time, so I suppose that makes us both part of the 30%. My husband works FT. I usually remember to officially consider myself employed, but I also identify mostly as SAHM in a general way. By my taxes I am working. It certainly is a different way of thinking about workers and the labor force.

  14. jim Says:

    Well, that is interesting: more unmarried women without children work part-time than married women with children! Another beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact.

  15. Amy P Says:

    Would that be because mothers need more money than non-mothers? And would older (nearly retirement-aged) women be pushing up the number of part-timers? It would be interesting to see a chart (maybe a bar graph?) showing median hours worked weekly among men and women of different ages. I suspect it would be lower on both ends, with a big bulge in middle age. You could have a corresponding chart showing median hours of housework/child-care at different ages. I think that one would also be low at either end, and a bulge somewhere in the middle, but not necessarily in the same place as the work bulge.

  16. Maggie Says:

    If I’m reading the two pie charts correctly, it looks like 6% of the labor force has an at-home spouse with kids under 18 AND 7% of the labor force (6% moms, 1% dads) is single-parenting kids under 18. Yet, society is set up with a presumption of the former being the norm, and the latter being an aberration. I think the similarity in those percentages is extremely interesting.

  17. LP Says:

    The second chart with too many slices: since you already have gender delineated with color, can you move them around to show a different tale? My eye kept moving between categories, so I would want to see the “men, married, no kids” next to the “women, married, no kids”. Basically pairing the men and women by category so the colors alternated.

  18. jim Says:

    Thinking some more about the full-time/part-time thing:
    One might work part-time voluntarily — near retirement, able to afford it; other pressing demands on one’s time, like parenthood — or involuntarily, in that one would have preferred a full-time job, but was unable to get one, so settled for part-time rather than unemployment. The stories we tell ourselves about part-time work are about voluntary part-time work; I suspect these numbers show that the mass of part-time work is involuntary.

  19. Laura Says:

    I, too, am amazed by that 6% figure for workers with an at-home spouse. Then why, why are schools still set up the way they are and/or why aren’t there more afterschool programs. Very interesting numbers.

  20. Bobbini Says:

    With the second chart, what are you getting at? Are you trying to compare the parent/marital status of men vs. women? If not, why are they in the same chart? If you are, a stacked chart of some kind would make more sense, I think.

  21. jen Says:

    Amazing numbers. This makes it easier for me to understand why the business community is so bad at helping people achieve balance. They can afford to — there are enough non-parents out there.
    Also as others have noted, we as a society are so out to lunch on this whole situation that we haven’t incented anyone (businesses, schools, anyone really) to adjust to the new reality.

  22. Madeleine Says:

    I’m late, but . . .
    I think the second pie chart would be enhanced by flipping the order of the women’s slices, so the pairs male/female by situation run down from the top together. Some kind of stacked bar thing might also work.
    In the first chart, there is so much to think about. One thing that popped into my head is that of the dual-working families, some of those people have someone else who might be doing their share of sick days and dentist appointments, and some people are doing it on their own. I guess the second chart speaks to that, if we assume that married = partnered, which isn’t entirely accurate. (Do you have data on non-married partnerships?)

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