Opting Out? Explaining Recent Declines in Women’s Employment

Kristin Smith, University of New Hampshire

The long-term rise in women’s labor force participation ended in 2000. In this paper, we use data from the March Current Population Surveys (1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2007) to document the post-2000 reversal in women’s employment rates. Specifically, we use methods of regression decomposition to decompose pre- and post-2000 shifts in women’s employment into composition and rate (i.e., “returns”) components. We focus in particular on recent patterns among highly-educated women, i.e., on the question of whether and why they are “opting out” of the labor force. Our analyses focus on several demographic and economic sources of change, including age, education, marital status, recent fertility, race and ethnicity, and residence (among others). The results suggest broad-based declines in women’s labor force participation rates in the 2000s rather than narrow shifts in the employment patterns among highly-educated women only.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Poster Session 3