The Hilary Rosen – Ann Romney controversy about women’s choices between market work and home production is a reason to take a closer look at the trend in women’s participation in the labor force. The labor force participation of adult women (age 25 and above) increased steadily from 1948, when the Department of Labor began measuring monthly participation rates, until the fourth quarter of 2008. Since then the participation rate of adult women has declined by about 1.4%. In the first quarter of 2012 the participation rate of adult women fell below 59% for the first time since 1996. The participation rate for women in their forties has dropped by 2% in just three years. In the first quarter of 2012, 75.6% of women in their forties participated in the labor market compared to 77.6% in the first quarter of 2009. The percentage of women age 40 to 49 who participate in the labor market is at its lowest point since 1988.
Last week Marginal Revolution explained that the typical foreign-born adult resident of the U.S. is more likely to participate in the labor force than the typical native-born American and that the participation gap is “especially high among men”. In fact, there is only a participation differential among men. The labor force participation rate of foreign-born women is lower than for native-born women.
It is also worth noting that the labor force participation differential is strongly related to men’s educational attainment. Labor force participation rates are higher for immigrants when comparing men with less than a college diploma.
For men age 25 to 64 who did not complete high school the participation rates are 63.3% for native-born and 87% for foreign-born men. For high school graduates the participation rates are 79.9% for native-born and 89.5% for foreign-born men. The participation rate differential for adults with some college is 3.4% and the gap is negligible for adult men with a college degree or more.
Less educated native-born men are significantly less likely to participate in the labor force than foreign-born men, regardless of educational attainment, and native-born college graduates. The labor force participation differential between immigrant and native-born men is due to the unusually low participation rates of less educated men who were born in the United States.