Fact O' the Day: Fewer Women Are In the Workforce

by Nathalie O'Neill

Color us surprised by this little bit of knowledge: For the first time in the post-war era, the percentage of women in the workplace has actually declined, according to a study by Alan Manning of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. And this might be a bad sign for equality in the workplace.

About 70 percent of women born between 1985 and 1994 have a job by age 23 or 24, reports the Daily Mail. This is a decline from previous generations. For instance, out of the previous generation, born between 1975 and 1984, about 73 percent were employed at the age of 24. "The main message is the youngest generations of women are not working any more than slightly older women, so female labour market progress has stalled," explained Manning.

Possible explanations include the economic downturn leading to more competition for jobs. Women are also staying in school longer before entering the workforce. Falling divorce rates may also be to blame: As women enter and stay in solid long-term relationships, they often find their need to bring home the bacon reduced. Often, this means they can afford to take time off or work part-time, focusing on childrearing.

Economists agree that social mores are at the root of this shift. Because women have achieved so much in the past decades in terms of gender equality, younger generations don't always see a need to fervently strive for the top in their careers. For these post-feminists, the quest for work-life balance and devotion to family life has eclipsed the emphasis on equality in the workplace.

Raquel Fernandez, professor of economics at New York University, also explains this as a relaxing of feminism among young women. "They don't believe they have to go out to work to prove themselves; if they want to spend the first five years at home with their kids, they are fine with that," she said.

The last thing I want is to fuel any Mommy Wars here. But it's important to understand that women's place at work is still relatively fragile. It would obviously be fantastic if every couple could afford to work less and focus on taking care of the family. But when ladies leave the workforce much more than men do, it still casts a shadow on working mothers, who are often expected to put their careers on the back burner. And now, whether by free choice, societal pressure, or a mix of both, more women are making the choice to stay home than ever before.

Graph: The Daily Mail

Image: Ed Yourdon on Flickr