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Rise in mothers' labor force activity includes those with infants.

Rise in mothers' labor force activity includes those with infants The notion that mothers of preschool-aged children, especially infants, usually stay out of the labor force at least until their youngest child has entered elementary school has changed rapidly during the 1980's. At mid-decade, nearly half of the mothers are either entering or reentering the work force soon after giving birth. By the time their youngest child is 4 years of age, 60 percent are in the work force. This report introduces a newly expanded series of statistics that traces some of the profound changes that have occurred in the labor force participation rates of the mothers of young children.

Married mothers

In March 1985, nearly half of all wives (husband present) with infant children 1 year old or under were in the labor force, compared with only 31 percent in 1975. The proportion rises significantly until the youngest child reaches school age. Fifty-four percent of the mothers of 2-year-olds were working or looking for work in March, as were 62 percent of those with 5-year-olds. For mothers of school-age children the proportion ranged between 64 and 71 percent.

Altogether, about 25 million children--over half in married-couple families--are in families where the mother is absent from the home for part of the workday on a regular basis; almost all of these children have a working father (91 percent). This latter fact, when linked to information on the full-or part-time employment status of wives, helps provide some insight into the extent and nature of the demand for child care. In 1985, 65 percent of the employed mothers with children under age 3 worked full time, as did 67 percent of those with children 3 to 5 years old (none younger) and 70 percent of those whose youngest child was 6 to 17.

Race. The labor force participation rates of black married mothers were considerably higher than those of white married mothers, especially when the youngest child was a preschooler. At 64 percent, the participation rate for black mothers with infant children (1 year or under) was 15 percentage points higher than the rate for whites. For the most part, this difference showed few signs of narrowing until the youngest child was 7 years or older. Even among mothers of older children, blacks maintained higher labor force participation rates.

Reasons underlying the higher participation rates of black mothers with very young children are both historical and economic. Black wives have a long history of participating in the labor market to a much greater extent than their white counterparts, impelled in part by the relatively greater labor force difficulties of black than white husbands. In March 1985, for instance, the unemployment rate for black fathers with preschool children was 10.2 percent, compared with 5 percent for the white fathers; for those whose youngest child was of school age, the unemployment rates were 6.3 percent for black fathers and 4.2 percent for white fathers. In addition, median usual weekly earnings of black husbands who were full-time wage and salary earners in the third quarter of 1985 were $353, or 77 percent of the $459 for white husbands.

Along with their generally higher labor force participation rates, employed black mothers usually work more weeks each year than white mothers, and a substantially larger proportion work all year at full-time jobs. This is true for mothers of preschoolers as well as school-age children; among those with children under age 3, 47 percent of the blacks worked year round, fill time in 1984, compared with 31 percent of the whites. The proportions were 65 percent (for blacks) and 35 percent (for whites) for those with 3- to 5-year-olds. As a consequence of these marked differences, median earnings of black wives with preschoolers were $10,480 overall in 1984, compared with $7,020 for whites; for wives with school-age children, the earnings were $12,010 (for blacks) and $8,800 (for whites).

However, the higher earnings of black mothers do not translate into higher total family income because of the significant difference between the earnings of black husbands and white husbands. The 1984 median income of black married-couple families with preschool children was $22,480, compared with $27,800 for whites.

Single-parent mothers

Because single-parent mothers are often the sole support of themselves and their children, they are far more likely to be in the labor force than married mothers. But, when labor force participation rates are disaggregated by year of age of youngest child, there is not much difference between the participation rates of the single parents and married mothers when their youngest child is 4 years of age or under, except among those with infants. However, the differences begin to widen when the youngest child is 5 years k old, and for the most part, remain large among mothers of older children.

In addition to having higher labor force participation rates than married mothers, single-parent mothers are also more likely to be full-time workers. About 82 percent of employed single-parent mothers worked 35 hours or more a week in March 1985, compared with 68 percent of married mothers. Proportions of single-parent mothers working full time ranged from 79 percent of those with children under 3 years, to 84 percent of those whose youngest child was age 6 to 17.

The relationship between the participation rates of whites and blacks among single-parent mothers is the reverse of that among married mothers. That is, white single parents are somewhat more likely than their black counterparts to be working or looking for work. However, until the youngest child enters his or her teens, the difference between participation rates for white single parents and black single parents is not nearly as great as among married mothers.

Trends since 1970

As table 3 shows, labor force participation rates of all wives by single year of age of youngest child increased between 1970 and 1985 whatever the child's age, though to differing degrees. Overall, labor force participation rates of married mothers grew faster during 1975 to 1980 than in either the 1970-75 or 1980-85 periods.

The most rapid increase from 1970 to 1985 was among mothers of very young children. Participation rates of mothers of infants age 1 year or under about doubled, followed by a 77-percent jump for those with 2-year-olds and a 60-percent rise for mothers of 3-year-olds. In contrast, the already high participation rates of mothers of older children grew less rapidly. For instance, the rates for mothers of 6- to 13-year-olds rose by 45 percent with the more rapid growth (increases in the 50-percent-plus range) occurring among mothers of 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds. Mothers of 14- to 17-year-olds showed the least gain in participation rates--about one-fifth.

The result of these differing rates of change has been a convergence of participation rates and blurring of the correlation between mothers' labor force activity and age of youngest child. For instance, in 1970, the highest participation rate (57 percent for mothers of 14-year-olds) was more than twice the lowest rate (24 percent for those with infants). By 1985, the highest rate (71 percent for mothers of 12-year-olds) was less than half again larger than the lowest rate (49 percent for mothers of infants).

THESE STATISTICS point to some of the striking changes in the economic role of mothers over the last decade and a half. Families have increasingly become solely or partly dependent on a mother's earnings. Using this newly expanded data series by single year of age of children, researchers will be better able to monitor changing labor force trends and thus provide important insights regarding family economic structure and the demand for family services such as child care.
COPYRIGHT 1986 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Author:Hayghe, Howard
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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