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December 1999, Vol. 122, No. 12
Marriage, children, and women's employment: what do we know?Philip N. Cohen and Suzanne M. Bianchi
One of the well-known economic trends of the past several decades is an increase in women’s labor force participation, particularly among married women with children. Although the trend is well established, there is no consensus as to its causes or consequences. With regard to causes, some argue that constraints such as low male earnings have propelled women into the marketplace, while others highlight expanding opportunities for women. Consequences are also contested, and the changing economic role of women is central both to debates about fairness and gender equity and to debates about family values and children’s well-being.
In this article, we reexamine the extent of involvement in paid work for women in general and married women in particular, for both substantive and methodological reasons. Our substantive interest grows out of a renewed focus on paid work and child care that is related to welfare reform. Although welfare reform has concentrated attention on single women with children, we argue that married mothers’ allocations of time to paid work also are central to the welfare debate, as these women often appear as a de facto comparison group. Hence, it is important to have a clear picture of both how much married mothers currently work for pay and how much that has changed over time. We develop our argument about the interrelationship of married women’s labor market activity and welfare reform in the next section.
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