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March, 1988, Vol. 111, No. 1
Women and the labor market: the link grows strongerSusan E. Shank
Women's attachment to the labor market has increased dramatically since the end of World War IIespecially for those between age 25 and 54. More than 7 of 10 women in this age group are now in the labor force, up from about 3 of 10 four decades earlier. The rise in women's attachment to market work is clearly both a product and a cause of many profound social and economic changes that have occurred in the United States over the last 40 years.
One result of this surge has been a narrowing of the gap between male and female participation rates. Also, women today display a pattern of labor force participation by age group that is very different from that evident 15 years ago. Until the mid-1970's, female participation rates by age formed an "M" shape, dipping between the early twenties and the main child-bearing years of 25 to 34. That pattern has now shifted to an inverted "U" and thus is very similar to that for men. (See chart 1.)
Another result is that labor market activity has become the norm for most women today. This is true for women in each 10-year group in the 25 to 54 age bracket, for whites, for blacks, and for all marital status groups. Moreover, the majority of mothers are in the labor force todayeven mothers of infants and toddlers. As recently as 1975, a Bureau of Labor Statistics study found sharp differences in participation rates of women by marital status and presence and age of children.1 Such differences have been reduced very substantially over the ensuing decade.
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Footnotes1 See Deborah Pisetzner Klein, "Women in the labor force: the middle years," Monthly Labor Review, November 1975, pp. 10-16.
Related Monthly Labor Review articlesDevelopments in women's labor force participation.—September 1997.
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