In the last 25 years, the number of women in the paid workforce has grown by 44 percent, while the proportions of women working full time and part time have stayed the same. How should we think about this?

The New York Times' Economix blog poses the question based on a new U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee report comparing women's workforce participation in 1984 and 2009:

Is this distribution a good thing or a bad thing for gender equity, or neither? On the one hand, part-time jobs are less likely to offer benefits or high wages. On the other hand, in part-time jobs, women are more likely to outearn men. Plus part-time jobs are more likely to allow for a more flexible work-life balance.

That is to say, women doing part-time work are more likely to out-earn men doing part-time work. But men are still likely to out-earn women overall. As a reminder, let's take a look at a chart from the same report:

In any case, the question is whether women are choosing part-time work because they want that flexibility, or because they feel compelled to — either because of lack of family-friendly options at work, or lack of help in domestic duties at home. Also, how many of them are working more than one part-time job?


Here's another interesting tidbit from the original report, which also notes that women now constitute half of payroll employment, compared to 44 percent in 1984:

In some industries, little progress has been made. For instance, women comprised just over 13 percent of those employed in construction in 2009, compared to 12 percent in 1984. And in some industries, women have lost ground. While women comprised 49 percent of those employed in the information industry in 1984, they made up just 42 percent of the industry in 2009. Similarly, in 1984 women comprised 32 percent of the manufacturing industry. In 2009, women were just 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce.

It's possible that the drop in the percentage of women in the "information industry" is due to it becoming more technically-oriented, a realm in which women tend to be underrepresented.


Back to working part-time: there's a clue at the end of the report that the Times didn't mention:

Child care for an infant costs a two-parent family living at the federal poverty line nearly 50 percent of their annual income, while a family living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line spends nearly 25 percent of their annual income on child care for an infant. While costs are somewhat lower for an older child, the burden on working families remains heavy.

There's an unambiguous figure for you.

Working Women In Part Time Jobs [NYT]
[BLS] (pdf)
Related: In Part Time Work, Women Out-Earn Men [NYT]


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