Where Women Work and What Unemployed Women Do

The Upshot is one my first reads of the day. Best new section of the New York Times by far. They had two great articles in the past two days. There is so much data to be unpacked. Loves it.

Yesterday’s article was about the differences in time-use studies between unemployed women and men. There’s a lot of info in that chart, but the main take away is that unemployed men are unhealthy, watch a lot of TV, and spend a lot of time looking for a job. Unemployed women spend most of their time caring for others and doing housework. They are healthier than when they worked.

Today, they have a map of where working women are most common. The upper mid-west and New England have the highest proportion of working women.

These numbers are tough to unpack. Are women unemployed, because they live in wealthy communities that support stay-at-home mothers and have spouses with high paying careers? Or are they full time parents, because the obstacles to work are too high? Are they caring for elementary aged children with relative ease or are they caring for multiple aging adults and special needs kids?

If unemployed women have a full range of choices and are financially affluent, then there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Choices were freely and happily made. If unemployed women are facing the same dismal job market as men and can’t afford childcare or eldercare, then there’s a real problem. The fact that the employment of women has a geographic pattern makes me think that childcare policies and job opportunities are major issues. The Upper Midwest and New England have more progressive policies for parents.

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The Impact of Low Investment in Family-Friendly Policies

Compared to European countries, the United States has minimal investment in child care programs and maternity leave policies. All this means, that the U.S. has fewer women who stay in the workforce after they have children. That’s not news. What is news is that the percentage of prime aged women in the workforce has declined dramatically in the past few years. “After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.”

The sharpest drop in labor participation is among low skilled, unmarried mothers, but there has also been a dip in higher skilled, married women, too.

It’s hard to work when you have kids. Schools are not set up for working parents. Maternity leave policies are too short. Child care is insanely expensive. If a child has special needs, then the system is even more hostile.

There is no urgency to make reforms in an economy with a 16 percent unemployment rate for men. I think that we’re going to see a lot more small businesses and entrepreneurial work by the higher skilled women in the next decade. Lower skilled women are going to work in the shadows for extremely low wages. Sadly, they are lining up at my dad’s food pantry three hours before opening time in the cold.

All the Single Mothers

In the Atlantic, David Frum explains that abortions rates have gone down and the number of single mothers have risen is because of “the Bristol Palin Effect.” Social conservatives have succeeding in changing American morality about abortion and inadevertantly legitimatized parenthood without marriage. Nearly half of all first births are to unwed mothers. “Single parenthood has become the norm for non-affluent Americans of all races.”

This is the fascinating irony of the pro-life movement. The cause originated as a profoundly socially conservative movement. Yet as it grew, it became less sectarian. Women came to the fore as leaders. It found a new language of concern and compassion, rather than condemnation and control. Most radically and decisively, the movement made its peace with unwed parenthood as the inescapable real-world alternative to abortion.

Given these unexpected outcomes, Frum says that social conservatives have to talk about policy solutions. Wonkbooks has some suggestions.

Egg Freezing as a Dubious Benefit

Last night, the evening news announced that Facebook and Apple were subsidizing the cost of egg freezing for their female employees, and I rolled my eyes. It’s a good thing for many reasons, don’t get me wrong. Younger eggs means less risk for all sorts of disabilities. But really my first thought was that the women in those companies need to have their eggs frozen, because they don’t have a chance to start a family until late in their 40s. The work-life balance must suck at those places.

And sure enough, lots of other women had the same reaction to that story.

The Brutality of Agism

As I reach the pinnacle of my 40s, my conversations with friends and family about jobs has shifted. For many years, it was all about how incredibly difficult it was to manage a new career and a new family. I hear less and less of those conversations.

People who stayed in the workforce are settling down. The professor friends are going to fewer conferences, writing less stuff, have stopped dreaming of better jobs. My friends who don’t have the tenure security blanket are more worried about keeping their jobs, but have also stopped striving for more. If it hasn’t happened yet, it ain’t gonna happen. There’s a brick wall in front of them. My friends who are in fields that are dominated by younger, flashier versions of themselves are actually frightened. Will the young boss fire them?

Then there are my friends, mostly women, but not all, who didn’t follow the traditional career paths. They became the flexible parent. The ones who went to the parent-teacher conferences and the after school music classes. They made sub-optimal career choices or stopped work entirely for a few years. Now, they want back into the wold of work, and their job applications are immediately dumped in a trash can. There’s a thread on my Facebook page about this right now.

I’ve had a terrible cold for the past couple of weeks. There’s nothing like a lingering cold to make you feel old. The kids shook it off in two days, and I’m still hacking up a lung and watching cable TV on the sofa in the evening.

One of things that I’ve been watching on the sofa wrapped in a blanket is the Shark Tank. Five venture capitalists listen to five minute presentations from wannabe millionaires who are looking for cash to fund their protein drink and purse businsesses. One of “sharks” is Barbara Corcoran, the real estate mogul from New York City. Barbara is smart, good looking, rich, and in her 60’s. Her age is a running joke on the show. It’s pretty distasteful.

Seems like such a waste to me. Whole groups of people being discounted and overlooked and insulted. Is 40 the new 65?

The Future of the Economic Gender Gap

The research on gender and income shows a very convincing gap between the genders. Women, overall, earn less money then men. Women hold the majority of minimum wage jobs in this country. However, if you compare single women and  single men in the same profession, there isn’t much of a difference. The real differences come about when you compare women with children versus everybody else. That variable – the three year old in the Old Navy t-shirt – is the real income killer.

Tyler Cowen’s article about gender and economics poses an interesting question. Is the gender gap narrowing? He looks at a couple of books that look at women in the workplace. The article is very interesting, and the studies are cool. I might come back to it later on. But the article doesn’t look at the key population that explains the economic gender gap – women who are not sitting around the corporate conference room. To really get a handle on the economic gender gap, we need to look at women who have had to leave the workplace or take a lesser position or were never able to finish school because they became parents.

I do think that things are easier for parents than they were 15-years ago, when I first became a parent. Of course, I’m just relying on my snapshot impressions. Not scientific at all.  I thought I would throw out my observations and see what y’all think.

When Jonah came around, there were very, very few childcare options. We couldn’t afford the very expensive place down the block that was set up for the doctors at Columbia Presbyterian. Through word of mouth, Jonah spent a couple of years with a woman who ran an unlicensed daycare out of her apartment. It wasn’t particularly safe. Ian’s childcare situation has always been more horrible, because he has special needs. I didn’t have access to after-school daycare. I can’t even write about my family’s dealings with the childcare system, because it was all such a trainwreck.

If I started my family today, we would be in a completely different situation. There are websites that help you find a babysitter, including babysitters that are experienced with children with special needs. When Ian was three, I posted an ad on the bulletin board at the local Starbucks. I accosted every working mom on the street looking for answers. I wouldn’t have to rely on the underground mom network today.

My friends who have young kids in daycare seem to be pretty happy. There are more places than there were 15 years ago. They are cheaper. Procedures are in place.

The workplaces are cooler about families. Sure, they have a long way to go, but I am starting to hear good stories about a shift in office culture. One friend told me that when she had her first kid around the time that Jonah was born, she had to pretend that her daughter didn’t exist. Now, her family pictures cover the walls of her office.

I am not sure that much has changed for low income women with children. Most of the clients at my dad’s food pantry are young women pushing strollers.

I am also not sure that much has changed for women who step out of the workforce for a while. Martha Stewart, who knows that audience very well, recently dissed Sheryl Sandberg saying that women need to be entrepreneurial, rather than dealing with corporate life.

Men Get Tenured Over Women With Equal Numbers of Publications

A study from the ASA conference explored the data on gender and tenure in computer science, sociology and English.

Not only are men more likely than women to earn tenure, but in computer science and sociology, they are significantly more likely to earn tenure than are women who have the same research productivity. In English men are slightly (but not in a statistically significant way) more likely than women to earn tenure….

In sociology, she found that the odds of a woman earning tenure were 51 percent lower than for men, when controlling for research productivity. In computer science, the figure was 55 percent. Those gaps are “highly significant,” she said. These figures suggest, Weisshaar said, that it’s not that women have to find ways to become as productive as men, but that women must be more productive than men if they want to earn tenure at a research university.

Wendy sent me the link to this study and a link to Instapundit’s reaction.