NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Proportion of Working Mothers with Babies Decreases

October 19, 2001

For the past quarter-century, mothers of infants under one year old have streamed into the workplace in growing numbers. But last year that trend reversed. Experts wonder whether the reversal is temporary or permanent -- and theorize on its causes.

  • A new Census Bureau report says that 55 percent of women with infants under age one were in the workforce in June 2000 -- compared with 59 percent two years earlier.
  • It was the first decline since 1976, when the government began tracking the numbers.
  • The tendency to remain home with a new child was largely confined to married women, white mothers and those with at least a year of college -- with no such trend among mothers who were single, African-American, Hispanic or did not pursue education beyond high school.
  • Of the mothers in the workforce who had infants under one, some 34 percent worked full time and 17 percent part time -- with four percent unemployed, but wishing to work.

As of March 2000, 79 percent of mothers with children ages six to 17 were in the workforce -- up slightly from 78.4 percent two years earlier.

Demographers note that as women delay motherhood into their 30s and 40s, they have more time to build up a nest egg. This financial cushion may be allowing them to stay home with their infants longer than they would if paychecks were a necessity.

Also, when the economy is strong, there is the perception that a job will always be available when a mother elects to return to work.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "More Mothers of Babies Under 1 Are Staying Home," New York Times, October 19, 2001.


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