Here are the two best
competing analyses on the issue of whether, since the Terrible President began occupying the White House, women are leaving the workforce because they want to stay at home for the children or
because of a weaker labor market.
Here is the Center for Economic and Policy Research's conclusions, which I find more persuasive:
"The important trend that this paper has explored is that the lackluster performance of the labor market since 2001 is the real reason that LFPRs have been falling among women. Women’s employment rates were hit exceptionally hard by this recession and they have yet to fully recover. While women had previously been more insulated from cyclical unemployment (teachers and nurses, as noted earlier in the paper), compared to men, now they appear to be nearly as vulnerable, although it remains the case that men’s employment rates fell further than women’s over the past few years. Future analysis should focus on demand-side factors, rather than assuming that most women either want to or are able to choose to stay at home. (Parenthesis added-MJF)
"The media hype about women opting out of employment is probably a result of the reality that for highly educated women, dropping out of the labor force is usually associated with having a child at home. What is interesting here is that just about the only reason that better-educated older women drop out of the labor force in the 2000s is to care for small children while at the same time, most highly educated women stay in the labor force when they have children."
Here is the "money" paragraph in Linda Hirshman's article in the American Prospect, which I will state below is less in disagreement with the Center's research than may be assumed:
"I stumbled across the story when, while planning a book, I happened to watch Sex and the City’s Charlotte agonize about getting her wedding announcement in the “Sunday Styles” section of The New York Times. What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the “Sunday Styles,” circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism’s promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.
"Ninety percent of the brides I found had had babies. Of the 30 with babies, five were still working full time. Twenty-five, or 85 percent, were not working full time. Of those not working full time, 10 were working part time but often a long way from their prior career paths. And half the married women with children were not working at all.
"And there is more. In 2000, Harvard Business School professor Myra Hart surveyed the women of the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 and found that only 38 percent of female Harvard MBAs were working full time. A 2004 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 2,443 women with a graduate degree or very prestigious bachelor’s degree revealed that 43 percent of those women with children had taken a time out, primarily for family reasons. Richard Posner, federal appeals-court judge and occasional University of Chicago adjunct professor, reports that 'the [Times] article confirms -- what everyone associated with such institutions [elite law schools] has long known: that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the workforce to take care of their children.'"
But, as Ms. Hirshman and Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research both discuss in their respective analyses, these are the women of the elite
sector of our society. They quit work because they can afford to do so--maybe even separate and apart from babies
. Again, Hirshman:
"This isn’t only about day care. Half my Times brides quit before the first baby came. In interviews, at least half of them expressed a hope never to work again. None had realistic plans to work. More importantly, when they quit, they were already alienated from their work or at least not committed to a life of work. One, a female MBA, said she could never figure out why the men at her workplace, which fired her, were so excited about making deals. “It’s only money,” she mused. Not surprisingly, even where employers offered them part-time work, they were not interested in taking it."As usual, I think, this fight over "what women want" is an overstatement based upon stereotypical assumptions that bear down on women in a way that we men don't directly deal with.
Most of us, male or female, if we had the choice, would choose not to go to the office and face the nonsense we have to deal with at our jobs. Some are very happy in their jobs, and I've met women and
men in the corporate world at least, who would rather be at the office than anywhere else. For the vast majority of people, and that includes the elite, we have other interests including raising children, writing, drawing, community volunteering, or following our hobby into a paying venture.
Hirshman creditably admits she is dealing with anecdotes for the most part. But those anecdotes are telling. She is correct to state that women do bear the brunt of child raising and this most often adversely affects their outside careers. The cultural default remains fairly engrained, at least in the U.S., that women, more than men, have the "duty" to take care of children, though this is less engrained than it was even 25 years ago in this nation (The rise of the househusband is still small, but no longer "weird"). Here is a somewhat related "pdf
" that reviews the post-partum policies of the U.S., Netherlands, and Sweden that is excellent is understanding the intersection of culture and economics. The report shows us why we too often "over conclude" our data.
In any event, the more one reads these reports, the more a national policy of providing quality child care for children in the US makes sense from an investment as well as cultural (societal) standpoint. Reading such reports also leads one to recognize that we, as a nation, do place more emphasis on women raising children than men (I stand "guilty" of this in our home, I must add). But the bottom line remains, as Linda Hirshman aptly states in her article: Too often we analyze these issues as if it's women who should be the focus when us guys are standing off stage hoping nobody notices.