NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How "The Pill" Changed The Work Force

April 3, 2000

The researchers argue that the pill was much more decisive in propelling women's careers than such issues as affirmative action and abortion reform. Yet, they note, precious little attention has been given to its role -- so little, in fact, that they found no studies or surveys about young women, fertility and contraception in the 1960s and just two from the 1970s.

  • They found that the percentage of female American college graduates entering professional programs leaped around 1970 -- and the age at which these women married soared shortly thereafter.
  • In previous generations, a woman graduating from college who chose to delay marriage in favor of a long and expensive education either had to pay the penalty of sexual abstinence or take the chance that her investment might be wasted if she became pregnant and abandoned her career.
  • But with the availability of the pill, that choice was no longer so stark.
  • The authors find that an indirect effect of the pill is that both men and women can now delay marriage, producing "a new equilibrium in which marriages are later, careers more numerous and matches 'better.'"

They examine alternative explanations, including the rise of affirmative action in the 1960s and the reform of state abortion laws in the 1970s. But they conclude that the timing of those developments doesn't match the data. That suggests they played a supportive role rather than a causal one.


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