NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Mothers Increasingly Putting Children Ahead Of Their Careers

March 12, 2002

Woman at the very peak of their careers are quitting to stay home with their families, according to U.S. Census Bureau findings. That trend represents the first time labor force participation among new mothers has dropped in 25 years.

  • In 2000, 55 percent of mothers with children under one year old were working or looking for work.
  • That's down from 1998, when the labor force participation rate was 60 percent.
  • The number of working, married women with children under 3 also has stalled -- going from an annual average of 4 million in 1999 to 3.9 million in 2000.

Demographers are puzzled by the trend and advance a variety of explanations -- ranging from lifestyle changes to economic fluctuations. For example, working parents who put off having children are typically better educated and have greater financial resources, making a career timeout more attainable.

Although defections from the career track are still small, they could have major implications for employers facing future labor shortages as baby boomers retire. And employees run risks as well. Research shows women who leave the work force even for a short time fall behind their counterparts when it comes to salary gains and advancement. Also, about half of first marriages end in divorce, according to the Census Department. That means stay-at-home mothers can pay a financial price for being reliant on a spouse.

Source: Stephanie Armour, "More Moms Make Kids their Career of Choice," USA Today, March 12, 2002.

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