Female Labor Force Participation: Why is the US Falling Behind?

A recent economic report issued by the White House describes a worrying trend in female labor-force participation rates.  While in 1990 the US had the sixth highest female labor participation rate among 22 OECD countries, by 2010 it ranked 17th.  "American women between the ages of 25 and 54, which are considered an adult's prime career years, are now less likely to be employed or on the job market than women in much of the developed world."


The major culprit, according to a study by Cornell University's Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, is the relative lack of "family-friendly" policies (including parental leave and part-time work entitlements) in the US compared to other OECD countries.
"We are one of three countries in the world, along with Papua New Guinea and Oman, that doesn't guarantee paid leave for new mothers. We also offer few protections for part-time workers, which makes it harder for women to keep a foot in the workforce after children."
More generous family policies can stunt women's careers by encouraging them to work part-time.  But as France's example shows, it is possible to have family-friendly policies without sidetracking women professionally: France has a higher rate of female labor-force participation than the US, a higher percentage of female managers, a smaller gender wage gap, all this while having a higher fertility rate than the US.

As the economic report of the President explains, female labor force participation has important consequences for families, but also for the US economy.  The early gains in female work force participation,
"as well as their increased educational attainment, have translated into large income gains for American families and have benefited the U.S. economy overall. Essentially all of the income gains that middle-class American families have experienced since 1970 are due to the rise in women's earnings." [...] Paid leave and workplace flexibility hold great potential to benefit businesses as well as our economy overall through improved economic productivity. A body of research finds that these practices can benefit employers by improving their ability to recruit and retain talent, lowering costly worker turnover, and minimizing loss of firm-specific skills and human capital, as well as by boosting morale and worker productivity. [...] To put a number on it, if women's employment increased enough to close the male-female employment gap, that would raise GDP by 9 percent." (emphasis added)
Read more:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/02/24/america_makes_life_impossible_for_working_women_so_how_come_they_re_so_much.html
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/cea_2015_erp.pdf
http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=54749
http://www.nber.org/papers/w18702.pdf

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Labor participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+) (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3026)
Economy Track: Employment to Population Ratio (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/2936)
http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/2936 (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3240)
Occupational Sex Segregation and Earnings Differences (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3109)
Education in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3124)
Frederique Laubepin

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