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July 1994, Vol. 117, No. 7
Are women leaving the labor force?
Howard V. Hayghe
For nearly three decades, the participation rates of womenproportion of their population working of looking for workrose consistently, regardless of economic contraction (recession) or expansion. However, between 1989 and 1991, this trend was interrupted and, while the proportion increased again in 1992, it flattened out in 1993.
This sudden interruption generated a great deal of speculation regarding its cause and meaning. Indeed, some observers believed it indicated that women were leaving the labor force to care for their children or to become homemakers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics attributed the 1989-91 interruption to three factors: the business cycle; a pronounced rise in births; and changes in the generally erratic participation trends of 16 to 24-year-old women, particularly teenagers.1 The resumption of labor force growth among women in 1992 temporarily silenced some of the speculation. But when growth again halted in 1993, analysts speculated that a trend reversal had reemerged. These speculations were reflected in such statements as: "In just the past two years, a quiet counterrevolution has begun .... the exodus of women from the labor force.... The two-paycheck family is on the decline; the traditional one-paycheck family is now the fastest growing household unit.2
Do these statements accurately reflect today's labor force trends? Are major new shifts occurring in women's labor force participation and in family employment patterns? These questions are addressed in this report, which examines data on trends in labor force participation among women (Particularly those under age 45) and on trends in employment patterns in two-parent families. The data are from the Current Population Survey.3
This excerpt is from an article published in the July 1994 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 See "Woman's labor force growth appears stalled," Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 92-2 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 1992).
2 See Maggie Mahar, "A change of place," Barron's, March 21, 1992, pp.33-38.
3 The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a nationwide sample survey of about 60,000 households conducted each month by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey obtains information on the labor market activity of persons 16 years and older in the civilian noninstitutional population.
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