Opting Out? The Effect of Children on Women's Employment in the United States

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January 2008, Heather Boushey

In the United States, a recent spate of popular media attention has focused on whether mothers, especially highly educated mothers in their thirties, are increasingly "opting out" of employment.

This paper uses data from the Current Population Survey's Annual Social and Economic Survey (ASEC) to examine whether children cause women to exit employment. This paper finds that the "child effect" on women's employment has fallen since the end of the 1970s. The child effect was -21.8 percentage points in 1979 and has fallen consistently over the last two decades to -12.7 percentage points in 2005. Between 2000 and 2005, the child effect grew from -11.1 to -12.7, but the change was statistically insignificant. Recent declines in women's employment may be more an effect of the weak labor market for all women, mothers and non-mothers, rather than an increase in mothers voluntarily choosing to exit employment.

Published by Feminist Economics, Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2008, pp. 1-36.

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