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Working mothers reach record number in 1984.

Working mothers have become a familiar feature of today's economy. A record 19.5 million, or 6 out of 10 with children under 18 years old, were in the labor force in March 1984. In contrast, 14 years earlier, 6 out of 10 stayed at home. Moreover, according to data from the Current Population Survey, the majority of employed mothers work full time. (See table 1 on page 32.)

Labor force. Since 1970, the rise in mothers' labor force participation rates has been phenomenal--about 20 percentage points. The increase was about the same for mothers of preschoolers as it was for mothers of school age children. Most of the gain was among married mothers, whose participation rate rose from 40 percent in 1970 to 59 percent in 1984. The rates for other mothers also advanced, but at much slower pace. Among divorced women, for example, 79 percent of the mothers were working or looking for work in March 1984, compared with 76 percent in 1970.

One important aspect of this increase is the degree to which mothers today do not leave the job market after childbirth. This is clearly demonstrated in the following comparison of married mothers' labor force participation rates:

Nearly half of the mothers with a child age 1 or younger were in the labor force in 1984. By the time the youngest is 3 years old, married mothers' participation rates approach 60 percent, and nursery school attendance or day care in some form becomes increasingly necessary.

The relatively high current participation rates of married mothers, especially those with infants, attest, in part, to the turnaround in society's attitudes regarding the employment of such mothers. The rates also reflect the fact that married women often delay having children until they have established themselves in the labor market.

Most employed mothers--71 percent in March 1984--work full time (35 hours a week or more). Even when the youngest child is under 3, about 65 percent of employed mothers are full-time workers. Divorced mothers are the most likely to work full time, partly because relatively few have preschoolers. Moreover, whether they work full or part time, the majority of working mothers have jobs throughout most of the year. For instance, 2 of 3 employed married mothers worked 40 weeks or more in 1983, mostly at year-round, full-time jobs.

Children. About 56 percent of the Nation's 58 million children under age 18 had mothers in the labor force in March 1984. In 1970, the proportion was 39 percent. The vast majority of these children were under 14 years--age groups for which all-day care, after-school care, or a combination of both is likely to be needed over the year. (See table 2 on page 31.)

Parents' employment status clearly has a major impact on children's welfare. In 1984, almost half the children in two-parent familes had both an employed father and mother, and nearly all of the remainder were in homes with an employed father. Only about 2.8 million, or 6 percent, were in families where neither parent was employed. As might be expected, children in single-parent families--especially those in families maintained by women--were much less likely to have a working parent in the home. About 2 of 10 children in families maintained by men and nearly 5 of 10 in families maintained by women did not have an employed prent. Overall, approximately 1 child in 7 lived in a home where there was no employed parent, and income was consequently low (a median of $6,782 in 1983).

Single-parent families. A record 6.2 million families with children were maintained by the mother alone (widowed, divorced, separated, or never married), and they accounted for one-fifth of all families with children. In 1970, there were fewer than half as many such families, and they constituted only one-tenth of the families with children.

Families maintained by the mother alone are less likely than two-parent families to contain a wage earner. Largely for this reason, almost half the families maintained by a mother in 1983 had incomes below the official poverty levels.sup.4 compared with 10 percent of two-parent families.

Whatever the number of children, the proportion of two-parent families with earners substantially exceeded 90 percent, while the ratio for families maintained by women varied from a high of 78 percent where there was only one child to 43 percent where there were four children or more. Childcare presponsibilities are undoubtedly a prime reason for the differences in the percent of families maintained by mothers that had an earner. Even in two-parent families, the proportion where the wife was an earner ranged from nearly 70 percent in which there was only one child, to below half where there were four children or more. (See table 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, a different picture emerges. While black married mothers are much more likely to be in the labor force than their white counterparts, the opposite is true among divorced or separated mothers. Age, education, and the number of children are important factors underlying these differences. On average, black mothers without husbands are younger, have completed fewer years of education, and have more children than their white counterparts and, thus, are likely to have a harder time finding and holding jobs.

The labor force participation rates of Hispanic mothers, regardless of their marital status, are lower than those of white of black women. Part of this difference undoubtedly lies in Hispanics' cultural heritage, 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 to be living in one-parent households and, consequently, are more likely to be living in poverty. More than 60 percent of the black and Hispanic one-parent families had incomes below the poverty threshold, as did 36 percent of similar white families. In contrast, the poverty rate was 20 percent for black and Hispanic two-parent families and 9 percent for whites.
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Author:Hayghe, Howard
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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