Work interruptions and the female-male earnings gap Essay

Differences in labor force attachment, or the extent of workinterruptions, are often cited as one of the main reasons women earnless than men. However, a recent study by the Bureau of the Census reports that work interruptions explain only a small part of theearnings disparity between men and women. According to the report, ifwomen had the same experience, interruptions, and education as men, theearnings gap would be reduced by only 14.6 percent. The report is based on data from the 1979 Income Survey DevelopmentProgram, which covered persons ages 21 to 64 who had ever worked.Participants were surveyed at 3-month intervals during a year and a halfbeginning in February 1979.

The survey measured the extent of workinterruptions by sex, race and Hispanic origin, years of schoolcompleted, occupations, and age and marital status. Surveyed personswere asked if they had ever been away from work for 6 months or longerbecause of inability to find work, caring for home or family, or illnessor disability. Sex and race. About 72 percent of the women surveyed had workedinterruptions, compared with about 26 percent of the men. Approximately65 percent of the women and 2 percent of the men responded that theywere “caring for home or family.” “Inability to findwork” was reported by 14 percent of the women with interruptionsand about 17 percent of the men. There was no significant difference inthe proportions of women and men with disability or illnessinterruptions.

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Black women had fewer work interruptions than white andHispanic-origin women, but were more likely to have interruptions due toillness. White and Hispanic-origin women were more likely to interrupt work because of family responsibilities; 67 percent of the white womenand 62 percent of the Hispanic-origin women, compared with 44 percent ofthe black women. The labor force interruption rates for white andHispanic-origin women were generally the same, except twice as manyHispanic-origin women cited “inability to find work.

” Overall, black men had higher interruption rates than white men.About 35 percent of the black men had interruptions due to an inabilityto find work, compared with 15 percent of the white men. The proportionsfor Hispanic-origin men were similar to those of white men. Educational attainment. Higher educational attainment was relatedto fewer work interruptions.

Specifically, the proportion of personswith work interruptions because of inability to find work decreased asthe educational level increased. For example, 25 percent of the men whodid not graduate from high school experienced such work interruptions,compared with only 8 percent of those who graduated from college. (Forwomen, the rates were 22 and 9 percent, respectively.) About two-thirdsof women with less than a college education had work interruptions dueto family responsibilities, compared with about half of those whograduated from college.

Occupation. Among women in white-collar occupations, those whowere in professional, technical, or kindred fields were less likely tohave interruptions due to family or home care than those who were insales or clerical jobs. However, for each occupational group, womenwere more likely than men to have work interruptions. Amongprofessional, technical, and managerial workers, the interruption ratewas 6 percent for women, compared with 15 percent for men. Age and marital status. About 43 percent of women ages 21 to 29had work interruptions due to family reasons compared with about 73percent of women age 30 and over. Comparable figures for men were about1.

5 percent for those ages 21 to 29 and about 1.6 percent for those 30and over. The interruption rates due to illness or disability werehighest among women ages 45 to 64 (16 percent), and lowest for thoseunder age 30 (4 percent). The proportions of disability interruptionsamong men were generally similar to those of women. The interruption rate for women ages 21 to 29 who had never marriedwas 21 percent for those without children and 44 percent for those withchildren. For never-married women ages 30 to 44, the rates ranged from33 percent for those without children to 47 percent for those withchildren.

For women who were presently married or had been married atsome time, the rates were 33 percent for those without children and 81percent for those with children. The report, “Lifetime Work Experience and Its Effect onEarnings: Retrospective Data From the 1979 Income Survey DevelopmentProgram,” U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports,Series p–23, No.

136, is for sale ($1.75) by the Superintendent ofDocuments, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

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