NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 1, 2006

A forthcoming Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study shows mothers at all income levels dropping out of the workforce, not just the highly educated, prosperous moms examined in many recent studies, says Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal.

According to the BLS analysis:

  • As expected, the biggest percentage-point declines in workforce participation did come among mothers with a bachelor's degree or more, followed by women with husbands in the top 20 percent of earners.
  • But all other demographic categories showed declines too, including women with husbands whose earnings fell into the middle range, the 40th to 80th percentiles.

In addition, children's age appeared to play a factor:

  • The dropping-out trend was most pronounced among mothers of children under age 1, whose labor force participation fell about 8 percentage points from 1997 to 2004, to 51 percent.
  • The decline for mothers of 3- to 5-year-old children was less than half as large, down 3.4 percentage points to 63.6 percent.
  • And for mothers of older children up to age 17, the decline was just 1.6 percentage points.

Whether the balance will continue to shift toward new mothers staying home remains to be seen, says Shellenbarger.  Historically, women's movement in and out of the work force over the course of their careers has ebbed and flowed.

One factor that might help bring them back is the importance of their paychecks.  BLS data show wives' average contribution to U.S. family income rose to 34.8 percent in 2004 from 32.7 percent in 1997 -- the year work-force participation by new mothers first turned south.

Source: Sue Shellenbarger, "More New Mothers Are Staying Home Even When It Causes Financial Pain," Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2006.

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