Labor-Force Participation

One of the most dramatic developments in recent decades has been the sharp influx of women into the workforce. The labor- force participation rate of women (i.e., the fraction of women over .15 employed or actively looking for jobs) has jumped from 34 percent in 1950 to 60 percent today. In part this can be explained by rising real wages, which have made working more attractive” for women. However, a change of this magnitude cannot be explained by economic factors alone. To understand such a significant alteration in working patterns, one must look outside economics to changing social attitudes toward the role of women as mothers, homemakers, and workers.

At the same time that more women have entered the labor force, the participation rate of older men has fallen sharply, especially for men -over 65. The most important reason for this change is probably the increased generosity of federal health and retirement benefits, which has made it possible for many people to retire rather than keep working

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