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Soc Biol. 1981 Spring-Summer;28(1-2):81-95.

Fertility and patterns of labor force participation among married women.



Variations in women's response to childbearing and participation in the labor force are examined with the expectation that 2 distinct patterns will emerge clarifying the fertility-work effect. The hypothesis is offered that 1 group of women will drop out entirely at the onset of childbearing, returning to work after the children have grown, if at all. Another group will work almost continuously with almost no gap in labor force participation. Past research, concentrating on averaged direction of causal flow, have obscured this bimodal distribution. 3 problems hamper the study of fertility effects on career discontinuity: detailed work and birth histories covering extended periods of time are scarce, variables often obscure variability, and censored histories are frequent in which the timing of an event may or may not occur until after the survey and therefore cannot be observed. Data for the analysis are from the 1970 EEO survey (Explorations in Equaltiy of Opportunity), a national sample survey of women who were high school sophomores in 1955. Using only complete data from women who were still married to their 1st husbands yielded a sample size of 703. Of these, 39% were working in 1970 and 85% had 2 or more children. Employment status, recorded for each year, was a dichotomous variable distinguishing between no employment during the year and any employment. The fertility variable indicated if a child was or was not adopted or born during the year. The women were much more likely to work before their 1st birth than afterwards, at least during the early adult years covered by this survey. Women who began childbearing while still in high school were more likely to continue working after birth. College graduates were also somewhat more likely to continue working after their 1st birth. 70% of the women worked before their 1st birth, 30% after the onset of childbearing. Work discontinuity, measured by the number of gaps in employment indicate that over 50% of the childless women have continuous work histories compared to 3% of the women with 4 or more children. 30% of the women with large families have 2 or more gaps and this group is also more likely to never have worked. Controlling for censored or truncated histories, a bimodal distribution is observed in analyzing time lapse in return to work after the 1st birth for women who were working at the time of the 1st birth. 35% continue to work without a detectable break and over 40% do not return after 5 or more years. Examining different parities reveals that the more children a woman will have, the less likely she is to continue working without a gap after her 1st birth and the more likely she is to have stayed out for an extended period. The dual pattern is still evident among higher parity women. Women who were not working at the time of their 1st birth are unlikely to enter the work force within 5 years of that birth. The association with small families (parity 1) is unclear due to the small number of cases. Different parity progressions have different patterns of labor force participation. 52% of the childless women and 38% parity 1 have continuous work histories, a rarity for women with 2 or more children. The results support several theoretical explanations. Normative interpretation may depict women oriented to traditional roles as allowing fertility to influence other decisions, while women oriented to the work role are influenced by work opportunity. The human capital interpretation suggests that women would be less likely to leave jobs with a high penalty for discontinuation, however all women who dropped out would be likely to stay out as their household labor became relatively more valuable than wage labor. The concept of career lines takes into consideration compatibility and prestige. Women in jobs with expected growth in salary and prestige will tend to have continuous work histories if the jobs are compatible with childbearing and if substantial losses are associated with gaps in participation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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