“Trends in labor force participation of married mothers of infants”

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A BLS report prepared by Sharon R. Cohany and Emy Sok. Below is the abstract:

The most striking feature of women’s labor market gains during the post-World War II period was the entry of married mothers into the work force. In 1948, only about 17 percent of married mothers were in the labor force. By the 1980s, labor force participation had become an integral part of their lives. In 1985, for example, 61 percent of married mothers were working or looking for work. (See chart 1.) By 1995, their labor force participation rate had reached 70 percent. In fact, married mothers accounted for most of the increase in total labor force participation during the post-war period.1

In recent years, however, the labor force participation of married mothers, especially those with young children, has stopped its advance.2 In 2005, the participation rate of married mothers with preschoolers was 60 percent, about 4 percentage points lower than its peak in 1997 and 1998.3 Married mothers with children under a year old (infants) showed the most dramatic changes. After reaching a peak of 59.2 percent in 1997, the participation rate for married mothers of infants fell by about 6 percentage points to 53.3 percent in 2000 and has shown no clear trend since then. In comparison, the participation rate of married mothers of school-age children (aged 6 to 17) fell by just 2 percentage points, from 77 percent in 1997 to about 75 percent in 2005.4 (See chart 2.)

This article explores the characteristics of married mothers of infants and recent trends in their labor force participation. The data in this article are from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of 60,000 households that provides a large amount of demographic, family relationship, and labor force information.5

Download the full article in PDF here.

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