NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 23, 2005

After decades of the growth of women in the workforce, the trend is shifting, says the Dallas Morning News. More women are opting out of the workforce, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Since the 1950s, demographic changes, including women marrying later and having fewer children, and time-saving household inventions, such as the dishwasher, have propelled women into the workforce.

  • In 1999, 76.8 percent of women between 25 and 54 were in the workforce, up 50 percent from about 50 years prior.
  • By 2004, the percentage had dropped to 75.3 percent, but was up slightly to 75.4 percent in the third quarter of 2005.
  • The current downward trend is mainly among married, educated women with children in higher-income families

Economist Pia Orrenius of the Dallas Fed notes that the economic boom of the 1990s probably caused the peak in women participation to occur earlier than it otherwise would have. But some economists worry that the decline in women's participation could weaken the economy, since economic growth relies on raising productivity or adding workers.

However, older workers are remaining in the workforce in greater numbers due in response to longer life spans, increasing health care costs and shrinking pension plans.

Source: Sudeep Reddy, "Women Dropping Out of Workforce," Dallas Morning News, December 21, 2005. "Opting Out of Work: What's Behind the Decline in Labor Force Participation?" Southwest Economy, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, November/December 2005.

For Fed report:


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