Women and participation in labor force

Nancy Folbre economist at UMass Amherst speaks to the issue of the participation of women in our economy:

Paradoxically, however, the very expansion of paid employment and the success of feminism have weakened gender solidarity. They have also intensified inequalities in family living standards.

Relatively few women in the workplace have made it into Ms. Whitman’s and Ms. Fiorina’s league. Still, earnings differences among women have been growing over time in the United States.

Married women’s rapid movement into paid employment between the 1960s and the mid-1990s helped prop up family incomes. But high-earning women tend to marry high-earning men, while low earners tend either to marry one another or — increasingly — not to marry at all. As women have garnered higher incomes, this marital sorting has intensified family-income inequality.

As more married women started bringing home a paycheck, previous differences in market income among families were reduced.

But the resulting decline in unpaid work had the opposite effect. Married women who don’t work for pay typically devote more than 40 hours a week to child care, meal preparation, house cleaning, shopping and related tasks, making a substantial contribution to family living standards.

Women’s productivity per hour in unpaid work almost certainly varied less than their market earnings, suggesting that housewives exerted an equalizing effect on the distribution of families’ “extended earnings” — the sum of market earnings and the imputed value of unpaid work.

As a result, increases in married women’s labor-force participation probably had a disequalizing effect on this broad measure of living standards.

(You can find more details about this argument in a draft paper of which I was a co-author for a recent conference on inequality and the middle class sponsored by the Luxembourg Income Study).

Rdan here…take a look at the draft paper…interesting.

Andrew Leonard at Atlantic presents a more practical concern of the Great Recession for many women.