This article notes that while the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, this has now fallen behind many European countries. The percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74% for those between 25 and 54. It has since fallen, to 69%. The article notes that while the economic downturn of recent years has eliminated many jobs, a lack of family-friendly policies also appears to have contributed to the lower rate.
Survey data shows that 61% of non-working women weren’t in employment due to family responsibilities, compared to 37% of non-working men. Of the women who identify as ‘homemakers’, and who have not looked for a job in the last year, nearly three-quarters would consider going back if a job offered flexible hours or allowed them to work from home.
Furthermore, there are different perceptions of non-working for men and women, and women’s experiences are more likely to reported positively than men. Women are more likely to say that not working has improved their romantic relationships and spend more time exercising than they once did. Men, meanwhile, report negative impacts on their romantic relationships and exercise less.
Yet, many women remain interested in working again, assuming the right prevailing conditions. Particularly important is the flexibility to avoid upending their family life. For many US women with children, the decision about whether to work involves weighing a particularly complex set of benefits and drawbacks. The issues, however, are often insurmountable as the United States has a dearth of programs and policies to support women in work, such as subsidized childcare, parental leaves and taxation of individuals instead of families, which are common in Europe.
The article argues that while the extensive benefits and employment protections granted the European workers has had economic impacts on job markets, the US approach of flexible labour markets with few benefits also has it’s costs, also: ” The free market leaves many families, particularly many women, struggling to find a solution that combines work and home life.”
Read more at the New York Times.