Are Mothers Leaving the Workforce? | A Generational Shift

09/14/21 03:02PM EDT

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During the pandemic, the share of U.S. mothers who say that not working for pay would be the best arrangement for them has grown. This share has ticked up among fathers as well, but not as dramatically. (Pew Research Center)

NH: Last week, we covered an article in The Economist theorizing why employment is low in so many wealthy nations.

The piece suggested that some workers may have reevaluated the importance of work and decided to leave the labor force. (See “Why Wealthy Nations Can’t Find Workers.”)

A new Pew analysis of an October 2020 survey suggests this is especially true among American mothers. In 2019, 51% of moms said that working full time was best for them "at this point in their life."

In 2020, only 44% of moms said the same thing. The share of mothers saying “not working for pay at all” would be the best rose from 19% to 27%. (For fathers, there was no significant difference between 2019 and 2020.)

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The number of women in the labor force is down -2.8% from the last pre-pandemic month--significantly higher than for men (-2.2%). To be sure, changes to schooling/childcare have forced many mothers to stay home.

But it's also plausible that many moms are revaluating life and deciding work is no longer as important. Note that the large decline in the Pew data is from "any work" to "no work at all." That directly impacts measured LFP.

The LFP rates for both women and men have been gradually falling since 2000. For men, this has been a secular decline that goes back to the early 60s.

But for women, this follows a more recent change in direction: rising LFP before 2000 and falling after.

We also know that this recent decline in the female LFP rate has been mostly driven by mothers in two-parent families, not by single moms or women living alone. Here we're looking at a generational shift.

Over the last twenty years, Gen-X women have been much less likely than Boomer women at the same age to work in jobs they don’t really like for income they don’t really need.

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