Archives - Human Development: Page 3
Author: paul carson (Wed Apr 25, 2007 12:45 pm)
Title: WOMEN AND WORK
By LINDA HIRSHMAN
THE United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published its long-awaited study, “Trends in Labor Force Participation of Married Mothers of Infants.” “In recent years,” the number crunchers reported, “the labor force participation of married mothers, especially those with young children, has stopped its advance.”
Sixty percent of married mothers of preschool children are now in the work force, four percentage points fewer than in 1997. The rate for married mothers of infants fell by about six percentage points, to 53.5 percent. The bureau further reports that the declines “have occurred across all educational levels and, for most groups, by about the same magnitude.”
In sum, sometime well before the 2000 recession, wives with infants and toddlers began leaving the work force. And they stayed out even after the economy began to revive.
For several years, experts have been arguing about the “opt-out” revolution — the perception that there has been an exodus of young mothers from the work force. Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research called the opt-out revolution a myth, and asserted that married mothers don’t drop out any more than other women in a bad economy. The new report is strong evidence that something really is going on.
Why are married mothers leaving their jobs? The labor bureau’s report includes some commonsense suggestions, but none that fully explains the situation. New mothers with husbands in the top 20 percent of earnings work least, the report notes. As Ernest Hemingway said, the rich do have more money. So they also have more freedom to leave their jobs. But why do they take the option? It’s easier in the short term, sure, but it’s easier to forgo lots of things, like going to college or having children at all. People don’t — nor should they — always do the easier thing.
The authors also speculate that the pressure of working and running a household is great. They do not say, however, that working hours have increased as participation has declined. Educated women, they report, work 42.2 hours a week on average and those with professional degrees, 45 — hardly the “80-hour week” of legend.
Poorer mothers can less afford child care, and because they earn less, their opportunity costs of not working are lower, the authors suggest. But for these women, lost income cuts deeper. And this factor, like the average number of hours worked, has not changed since 1997.
What has changed in the last decade is that the job of motherhood has ramped up. Mothers today spend more time on child care than women did in 1965, a time when mothers were much less likely to have paying jobs, family scholars report.
The pressure to increase mothering is enormous. For years, women have been on the receiving end of negative messages about parenting and working. One conservative commentator said the lives of working women added up to “just a pile of pay stubs.” When the National Institute of Child Health reported recently that long hours in day care added but a single percentage point to the still-normal range of rambunctious behavior in children, newspaper headlines read, “Day Care, Behavior Problems Linked in Study.”
Should we care if women leave the work force? Yes, because participation in public life allows women to use their talents and to powerfully affect society. And once they leave, they usually cannot regain the income or status they had. The Center for Work-Life Policy, a research organization founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of Columbia, found that women lose an average of 18 percent of their earning power when they temporarily leave the work force. Women in business sectors lose 28 percent.
And despite the happy talk of “on ramps” back in, only 40 percent of even high-powered professionals get back to full-time work at all.
That the most educated have opted out the most should raise questions about how our society allocates scarce educational resources. The next generation of girls will have a greatly reduced pool of role models.
But what is to be done? Organizations like Moms Rising and the Mothers Movement Online have stepped up the pressure for reforms like flexible work hours and paid parental leave. Such changes probably would help lower-income women in the most unforgiving workplaces. But they are unlikely to affect the behavior of the highly educated women with the highest opt-out rates.
We could make an effort to change men’s attitudes. Sociologists have found that mothers (rich and poor) still do twice the housework and child care that fathers do, and even the next generation of males say they won’t sacrifice work for home. But in the short term, it might be easier to change the tax code.
In most American marriages, wives earn less than their husbands. Since the tax code encourages joint filing (by making taxes lower for those who do), many couples figure that the “extra” dollars the wife brings in will be piled on top of the husband’s income and taxed at the highest rates, close to 50 percent, according to estimates made by Ed McCaffery, a tax professor at the University of Southern California. Considering the cost of child care, couples often conclude that her working adds nothing to the family treasury.
If married couples were taxed as the separate income earners they often are, women would be liberated from some of the pressure to reduce their “labor force participation,” as the labor bureau would say.
Labor statistics are always couched in such dry language, but it reveals a powerful reality: working mothers, rich and poor, struggle with their competing commitments. Now that we have seen the reality, it is time to address it.
Linda Hirshman is the author of “Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.”
grow and be kind
Not to sound like a sexist pig but maybe there is a reason woman earn less. Just like there is a reason men pay more in car insurance. Women are a bigger risk. A man can't get pregnant and leave a job for months. Women bare the burdens of child birth in labor and in the work place.
If that were so, then working women should be paid more as they age because the decreasing probability they will become pregnant. Just as car insurance premiums decrease as a driver ages (until a certain point) so should a women's salary increase as the pregnancy risk decreases. Even so, I don't feel like pregnancy is a valid reason to pay women less money. With maturnity leave a women has a limited amount of time to be gone from work. The business will only lose out on her availability for this window of time. It doesn't seem necessary to pay them considerably less money to offset the risk of something that has a maximum time limit.