Friday, December 09, 2005

Strawfeminist Arguments Exposed in the NYTimes: Moms Do Choose to Work in the Labor Force

A few weeks ago, Amanda at Pandagon broke down Maureen Dowd's Strawfeminist arguments. Echidne of the Snakes also had a mightily insightful piece on the spate of strawfeminist arguments appearing in the NYTimes of late.

Today, one of my favorite listserv's alerted me to this 701 word article that was buried in the Business/Financial Desk of the NYTimes on December 2nd, 2005: "Mother's Flight from the Job Force Questioned."

This nice piece of reporting should lead the editors at the NYTimes to bitch slap the writers passing off strawfeminist crap for journalism. I am reprinting the whole story here, since you would have to pay to retrieve it otherwise.

Any guesses why this story was buried and Louise Story's piece appeared on the front page (see Katha Pollit on this)?

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

December 2, 2005 Friday
Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section C; Column 1; Business/Financial Desk; Pg. 2

LENGTH: 701 words

HEADLINE: Mothers' Flight From Job Force Questioned



Working mothers may be stressed by the double job of caring for their careers and their families, but they are not leaving the work force because of it, a report has found.

While the percentage of mothers in the labor force has declined since its peak in 2000, the participation rate of women without children declined by a similar rate over the same period, according to the study by Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington.

Rather than indicating that women are opting out of employment to have children, Ms. Boushey said, the decline underscores how weak the labor market has been for all workers since the recession of 2001.

''There is no trend of mothers dropping out of the labor force,'' Ms. Boushey said. ''It just looks like they are because the economy has been so hard on working moms.''

Ms. Boushey's study was, in part, a response to a recent article in The New York Times that found that many young women at elite colleges said they intended to put aside their careers, at least temporarily, when they start raising children.

For decades after the end of World War II, women joined the labor force in sharply increasing numbers. From 1948 to 2000, the labor participation rate of women ages 25 to 54 rose from just over 30 percent to a peak of more than 77 percent.

The trend varied in intensity by age and education. Mothers worked outside the home at lower rates than women without children, and the rate for mothers with preschool children was less than that for those with older children. But the steadily increasing work force participation by women held broadly across the spectrum.

Starting in the 1990's, however, the growth rate slowed. And five years ago, the tide turned. By October 2005, the participation rate of women 25 to 54 had dropped more than two percentage points.

The downturn prompted some scholars to speculate that women's long march into work might be tapering off. Maybe the pressures of family life -- particularly taking care of children -- were persuading more women to reconsider their careers and drop out of the labor force.

Francine D. Blau, a professor of labor economics at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, doubts that the decline in working women denotes an opt-out revolution by mothers. But the data are hard to sort out.

''It's credible,'' Ms. Blau said, that the participation of women in the work force is ''entering into a period of slower growth, which might reflect the very high rates that we've attained. But it's also possible that it is due to general economic conditions.''

Ms. Boushey's study attributed the recent decline to a weak job market. Adjusting the data to take into account differences in labor participation among women of different ages, ethnic and racial groups, and education, as well as the impact of the economic cycle, Ms. Boushey concluded that from 2000 to 2004, the ''child penalty'' -- the impact of having children on women's labor supply -- continued to diminish.

All things considered, the labor force participation rate of mothers aged 25 to 54 with children was 8.2 percentage points lower in 2004 than the rate for all women in the age group, narrower than the 9.9 percentage point gap in 2000 and smaller still than the 14.4-point difference in 1993.

For women with a college degree, the child penalty declined to 3.8 percentage points in 2004 from 7.9 percentage points in 2000, also continuing the trend.

In other words, Ms. Boushey concluded, mothers are not dropping out of the job market faster than other women.

Part of the challenge in understanding what is going on is that recessions in the 1980's and 1990's did not reverse the trend toward more women in the work force.

But the 2001 recession did, Ms. Boushey acknowledged.

She attributed the decline to women's success in expanding the kinds of jobs and places where they work.

Women used to concentrate in relatively recession-proof occupations like education or nursing.

But now, many more women are found in nearly all economic sectors, including industries whose workers, particularly newly hired women, are much more vulnerable to job losses during recessions.


LOAD-DATE: December 2, 2005