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Published on Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why Aren’t More Women in the Workforce?

Author: Anthony Kaylin

According to US Census statistics, 57% of women work outside the home, compared with 69.2% of men. Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen stated that “[o]ne recent study estimates that increasing the female participation rate to that of men would raise our gross domestic product by 5%.”  So why aren’t more women in the workforce?

Although a handful of employers are providing more rich policies, such as paid maternity leave, the U.S. still lags the rest of the developed world when it comes to women’s issues.  For example, the U.S. is still the only developed country that does not provide by law paid maternity leave for women.  Although the tax code provides for child care credits in certain circumstances, child care costs are often the same or higher than mortgage payments.  Further, research shows that women are likely to bear the burden of domestic responsibilities even while working full-time.

Economist Heidi Hartmann, founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, noted that in 1990, the U.S. had the sixth highest female labor participation rate among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, trailing only Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Canada. By 2010, the country slid to 17th.  Britain, Spain and Germany jumped ahead after expanding support for new parents, including subsidized child care and paid family leave.

According to a 2013 Cornell University study, “expansion of ‘family-friendly’ policies including parental leave and part-time work entitlements in other OECD countries explains 28-29% of the decrease in the US women’s labor force participation relative to these other countries. However, these policies also appear to encourage part-time work and employment in lower level positions. US women are more likely than women in other countries to have full-time jobs and to work as managers or professionals.”

The issue crosses political party boundaries.  Abby McCloskey, former policy adviser to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, believes that “[t]he nature of work and families have changed dramatically over the last 50 years — especially for women — yet our labor policies have largely stayed the same. The result is a big disconnect between what working parents need and what is provided.”

For example, women may be more likely to sacrifice career objectives for more flexibility at work.  At one large company, women were found reluctant to take promotions where the new jobs required more travel and a possible move to a new location.  Uprooting the family was the barrier to the new opportunities.  The sandwich generation exacerbates the issues facing women, who are more likely to be primary caregivers for aging parents than men.

Aparna Mathur, ‎a resident scholar in economics at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, believes that the sacrifices women make for the family are glossed over.  “Historically, much of the discussion surrounding labor force participation has focused on men.  I think similar, if not more, attention needs to be given to women’s labor force participation and the factors driving the stagnation there.”

Source: Washington Post 5/8/17


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