The Washington Post carries a story about a new study that shows that participation by women in the labor force peaked a few years ago and is now on the decline. Commentators have talked about how more women are now choosing to stay home and care for kids again. But the article makes clear that that's not accurate. Rather, people's perception of the story seems skewed skewed by the mindset that men and women ought to behave the same.
First off, the chart accompanying the article shows that male labor force participation has been on the decline since 1948 - albeit it started at a much higher rate than the participation of women.
Second, the article note that:
Contrary to popular theory, Labor Department data do not show a rising proportion of women dropping out of the workforce to spend time with their families. Indeed, the participation rate has fallen since 2000 for both women with children and women without children.
While nonworking women are still much more likely than men to cite "home responsibilities" as their reason for not holding or seeking a job, that's actually less true now than it was in the past. The share of women aged 25 to 54, considered to be in their "prime" working years, who gave that reason for not seeking employment has shrunk for more than a decade. The share of men citing that reason has edged up over the same period, according to a Labor Department analysis of census survey figures from 1990 to 2003.
The female participation rate peaked below the men's, though, because women still take out more time to care for children and other relatives, analysts say and the data show.
So this study bears great news, as I see it. More men and women are able to afford not to work. In fact, there's not much negative news in this story, as far as I can tell. There's this sad datum:
Among nonworking adults aged 25 to 54, a growing share of women said they were not holding or seeking a job because of disability or illness, according to the survey data. A shrinking share of comparable men cited those reasons.
And there's the ant at the picnic:
Some analysts say the labor force participation rate also reflects the lingering effects of the last economic downturn and that it would have rebounded by now if job growth were stronger. The fact that so many people remain out of the workforce reflects "weak labor demand rather than choice," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on labor issues.
Ah yes, if only the unemployment rate were to drop from 4.6% to 2.5%, lots more people would be working! And the only cost would be the worst inflation since Jimmy Carter!
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