Women’s Declining Labor Force Participation

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.

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