Working mothers reach record number in 1984 Essay

Working mothers have become a familiar feature of today’seconomy. A record 19.5 million, or 6 out of 10 with children under 18years old, were in the labor force in March 1984.

In contrast, 14 yearsearlier, 6 out of 10 stayed at home. Moreover, according to data fromthe Current Population Survey, the majority of employed mothers workfull time. (See table 1 on page 32.) Labor force. Since 1970, the rise in mothers’ labor forceparticipation rates has been phenomenal–about 20 percentage points. Theincrease was about the same for mothers of preschoolers as it was formothers of school age children. Most of the gain was among marriedmothers, whose participation rate rose from 40 percent in 1970 to 59percent in 1984.

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The rates for other mothers also advanced, but at muchslower pace. Among divorced women, for example, 79 percent of themothers were working or looking for work in March 1984, compared with 76percent in 1970. One important aspect of this increase is the degree to whichmothers today do not leave the job market after childbirth.

This isclearly demonstrated in the following comparison of marriedmothers’ labor force participation rates: Nearly half of the mothers with a child age 1 or younger were inthe labor force in 1984. By the time the youngest is 3 years old,married mothers’ participation rates approach 60 percent, andnursery school attendance or day care in some form becomes increasinglynecessary. The relatively high current participation rates of married mothers,especially those with infants, attest, in part, to the turnaround insociety’s attitudes regarding the employment of such mothers. Therates also reflect the fact that married women often delay havingchildren until they have established themselves in the labor market. Most employed mothers–71 percent in March 1984–work full time (35hours a week or more). Even when the youngest child is under 3, about65 percent of employed mothers are full-time workers.

Divorced mothersare the most likely to work full time, partly because relatively fewhave preschoolers. Moreover, whether they work full or part time, themajority of working mothers have jobs throughout most of the year. Forinstance, 2 of 3 employed married mothers worked 40 weeks or more in1983, mostly at year-round, full-time jobs. Children. About 56 percent of the Nation’s 58 millionchildren under age 18 had mothers in the labor force in March 1984. In1970, the proportion was 39 percent. The vast majority of thesechildren were under 14 years–age groups for which all-day care,after-school care, or a combination of both is likely to be needed overthe year. (See table 2 on page 31.

) Parents’ employment status clearly has a major impact onchildren’s welfare. In 1984, almost half the children intwo-parent familes had both an employed father and mother, and nearlyall of the remainder were in homes with an employed father. Only about2.8 million, or 6 percent, were in families where neither parent wasemployed. As might be expected, children in single-parentfamilies–especially those in families maintained by women–were muchless likely to have a working parent in the home. About 2 of 10children in families maintained by men and nearly 5 of 10 in familiesmaintained by women did not have an employed prent.

Overall,approximately 1 child in 7 lived in a home where there was no employedparent, and income was consequently low (a median of $6,782 in 1983). Single-parent families. A record 6.2 million families withchildren were maintained by the mother alone (widowed, divorced,separated, or never married), and they accounted for one-fifth of allfamilies with children. In 1970, there were fewer than half as manysuch families, and they constituted only one-tenth of the families withchildren. Families maintained by the mother alone are less likely thantwo-parent families to contain a wage earner.

Largely for this reason,almost half the families maintained by a mother in 1983 had incomesbelow the official poverty levels.sup.4 compared with 10 percent oftwo-parent families. Whatever the number of children, the proportion of two-parentfamilies with earners substantially exceeded 90 percent, while the ratiofor families maintained by women varied from a high of 78 percent wherethere was only one child to 43 percent where there were four children ormore. Childcare presponsibilities are undoubtedly a prime reason forthe differences in the percent of families maintained by mothers thathad an earner. Even in two-parent families, the proportion where thewife was an earner ranged from nearly 70 percent in which there was onlyone child, to below half where there were four children or more.

(Seetable 3.) Minorities. A higher percentage of black than white or Hispanic mothers were in the labor force in March 1984. (See table 4.) However,when labor force participation is examined by marital status, adifferent picture emerges. While black married mothers are much morelikely to be in the labor force than their white counterparts, theopposite is true among divorced or separated mothers. Age, education,and the number of children are important factors underlying thesedifferences.

On average, black mothers without husbands are younger,have completed fewer years of education, and have more children thantheir white counterparts and, thus, are likely to have a harder timefinding and holding jobs. The labor force participation rates of Hispanic mothers, regardlessof their marital status, are lower than those of white of black women.Part of this difference undoubtedly lies in Hispanics’ culturalheritage, and part may stem from the fact that Hispanics, on average,have completed fewer years of school than whites or blacks. Black and Hispanic children are more likely than white children tobe living in one-parent households and, consequently, are more likely tobe living in poverty. More than 60 percent of the black and Hispanicone-parent families had incomes below the poverty threshold, as did 36percent of similar white families.

In contrast, the poverty rate was 20percent for black and Hispanic two-parent families and 9 percent forwhites.


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