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Studies Highlight Changing Role For Women In Workplace

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
January 19, 2010

late night community college coursesTwo recent reports are shedding light on the rising presence and influence of women in the labor force.

Last week, the Census Bureau released data indicating that the number of women who are their family's sole breadwinners has risen along with the number of unemployed fathers. The Los Angeles Times reports that according to Ellen DuBois, a professor of women's history at UCLA, the trend is similar to when women held onto jobs better than men during the Great Depression.

"When employers were trying to cut back on their labor bill, they got more bang for their buck by cutting back on male workers," she was quoted as saying in the LA Times. "Something like that might be happening now." She added that men's increasing presence at home is impacting the amount of time fathers now spend with their children.

The Associated Press reports that according to the data, mothers were the sole breadwinners in 4 percent of the labor force--about 963,000 moms in total. Fathers who were the only workers in the family made up 28.2 percent or 7.3 million--much higher than mothers but still the lowest figure since 2001. Families in which both parents worked remained about the same at 66 percent, or 17 million.

Meanwhile, a recent study released by the Pew Research Center indicated that many men now benefit economically from marriage because most wives are educated and work.

"Marriage is a different deal than it was 40 years ago," explained Richard Fry, a co-author of the study who was quoted in USA Today. "Typically, most wives did not work, so for economic well-being, marriage penalized guys with more mouths to feed but no extra income. Now most wives work. For guys the economics of marriage have become much more beneficial."

Using Census data from 1970 and 2007, Pew researchers determined that women today earn more college degrees than men: In 1970, men made up 64 percent of college graduates, while women comprised 53.5 percent of graduates in 2007. Moreover, women's earnings grew 44 percent from 1970 to 2007, although they still earn less than men on average.

Both reports said that women's changing role in the workforce is being accelerated by the recession, which has caused layoffs in industries that have primarily employed men. The Pew report noted as a result of the economic downturn, women "are moving toward a new milestone in which they constitute half of all the unemployed."

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