Despite what you may have read in the news, women aren't leaving the workforce in droves because they prefer to stay at home and raise families. Yet another study has been released demonstrating that NY Times writer Lisa Belkin's so-called "opt-out revolution" is a myth.
A new study by Joan C. Williams et. al. at the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings School of Law analyzed news coverage of women leaving the workforce. They found that opt-out stories tend to focus only on women in professional or managerial jobs (less than 10% of American women), give an unrealistic picture of how easy it will be for those women to return to the workforce, and seldom talk about divorced women. The study offers data from a wide variety of sources disproving the opt-out myth, including the fact that work hours for both women and men have declined as the U.S. economy has stalled in recent years.
That's on top of a 2005 study by Heather Boushey at the Center for Economic and Policy Research who analyzed Current Population Survey data from the Bureau of Labor Stats. Boushey found that since 1984 the share of women with children who are in the labor force has continued to increase, and that hasn't changed recently. In other words, she found no statistical evidence of a trend that women with children are choosing to stay home.
A Christian Science Monitor article by Marilyn Gardner explores other aspects of the myth as well. She talks to several women who've been pushed out of the workforce because their employers don't provide the flexibility they need to care for their families. These women would prefer to work, but often can't because of workplace policies. They're pushed out, rather than opting out. Furthermore, Williams tells Gardner, "Unions often, although not invariably, still have the impression these are professional women's issues. Unions do not receive the message that work-family issues are core union issues."
Thanks to Jim Kissane's Workforce Development blog, where I first ran across this story.