Couples economise to keep mother with baby

Wall Street Journal 30 Nov 06
New mothers in the United States are dropping out of the workforce in greater numbers, even though the importance of their earnings to the family has increased. Data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics shows a seven-year trend among women at all income levels — not just the highly educated, prosperous mothers examined in many recent studies. But they are staying out of the workforce for shorter periods than in the past, concentrating mainly on the baby’s first year — encouraged, perhaps, by research on infant development.
The biggest percentage declines in workforce participation, as expected, has been among mothers with a bachelor’s degree or more, followed by women with husbands in the top 20 per cent of earners. The trend is most pronounced among mothers of children less than one year old, with a fall among married mothers of infants of 8 percentage points to 51 per cent between 1997 and 2004. The decline in participation for mothers of 3- to 5-year-olds was 3.4 points, down to 63.6 percent.
Historically, women’s movement in and out of the workforce over the course of their careers has ebbed and flowed. However, the importance of their paychecks to their families has continued to rise — on average from 32.7 per cent in 1997 to 34.8 per cent in 2004. Couples quoted in WSJ have economised by such measures as down-sizing their car, not eating out, and stopping college savings plans.