Original post by Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis
Claudia Goldin was awarded the Nobel in economics this week. In particular it was for her research on women in the labor force. You can find the a short summary of her work here. That work is foundational to understanding the shifts in female labor force participation as the economy evolves over time, the role that increasing educational attainment has, in addition to contraception and family planning and the like. Furthermore, her work highlighted the gender pay gap, and the impact of parenthood on careers and earnings, and how that differed between moms and dads. While a lot of that information is now common knowledge, that is in large part due to her research and findings. An award well deserved.
It also makes for a good segway into the latest numbers on parents in the labor force and those staying at home to take care of the kids. New 2023 data just dropped in the past month and our office has been updating our look at labor force outcomes. The upshot is a continuation of the trends identified and researched by Professor Goldin. Today, the share of moms working is at an all-time high, and while dad’s remain a small portion of parents staying at home to look after the kids, they are a growing share.
Keep in mind that what follows are based on the data, and have no value judgements. Deciding whether one wants to, or can afford to stay home is a very personal decision that families make. There is no right, or wrong answer. The issue is if some us are forced to do something we would prefer not to. Ideally our society would better enable families to make the best choices for themselves, whatever that may be, for whatever time period they prefer.
First, the share of U.S. mothers with children living at home that are employed or in the labor force overall is at a record high today. Note that with the falling birthrate, the total number of U.S. moms with children living at home is declining, while the number of working moms is holding closer to steady, which is mathematically what is driving the percentages higher.
The same general patterns are true here in Oregon. Note this Oregon data uses a multiyear average to help smooth the noise from a small sample size. Overall, Oregon’s underlying trends closely follow the U.S. when it comes to moms and dads in the labor force. In terms of employment rates for Oregon moms, it is at a record high, while labor force participation is a hair lower than prior to the dotcom bust. Also note, at least in this dataset, the total number of moms with children living at home in Oregon is holding steady, not showing the same declines as the national figures. That could either be noise, or that Oregon’s low birthrate is more about the changes on the intensive margin (fewer kids per family) than on the extensive margin (fewer women having any children), but something to look into further.
Second, much of the increase is among mothers who are college graduates. If we dig into the occupations they work in, the biggest increases in recent years are among management, and business and finance jobs. This particular dataset does not have a work from home variable so it is hard to know to what extent that may be playing a role. But it should also be noted that moms without a college degree are seeing some increases as well and are now at their highest labor force participation rate in more than a decade.
Next, let’s take the same look based on educational attainment of the mom, but add in the age of the youngest child at home. Here you can see a few different patterns worth highlighting. Moms with older kids at home do have higher participation rates. This has been true over all the years of available data.
Now, the steady rise in participation among college grads with very young children at home, likely, at least in part, speaks to the ability to pay for childcare. Of course there are other arrangements out there in terms of family and friends and flexible schedules or different partners working different shifts and the like. But given childcare costs, higher income households are better able to shoulder that burden if they so choose. There has not been a similar increase among moms without a college degree.
Additionally there is an upward trend in participation (and employment) among moms of elementary-aged children, while trends are more steady in recent years among those with slightly older kids. Note that all of these trends are broadly similar for moms who have 1, 2, or 3 or more children living at home.
Fourth, part of our societal and economic evolution is not just rising educational attainment and increasing in participation among moms, but also an increase in dads who stay home to take care of the kids. This is still not very common, but it is more common today than a generation ago.
Nationally, just over one percent of dads with kids at home say they are not looking for a job specifically because they are staying home to take care of the family. That share has been pretty steady since the fallout of the housing bust and financial crisis. Here in Oregon the share is higher at 1.8 percent. Note that, again, we are using a multiyear average for the noisy Oregon data. On a raw data basis, this share did spike above two percent in 2021, but then in the 2022 data it dropped all the way back down close to one percent, but the 2023 data is back to 2.1 percent. This is likely an indication that Oregon dads are saying they are staying home to take care of the kids to a greater degree than the national average.
Finally, even with somewhat more dads staying home we know that there remain considerable differences between moms and dads when it comes to their economic and labor force outcomes. Moms still disproportionately do not work, and in particular do not work because they are staying home with the kids. That said, dads are a small, but increasing share of parents that do not work, and specifically those that do not work to stay home with the kids. Among all parents who do not work, dads account for nearly 1 in 5 today, and among parents who do not work specifically to take care of the home or family, dads account for 1 in 20 (5%), meaning moms are 95% of all stay-at-home parents today. These trends can be seen in the chart below, which highlight the slow evolution of our society, family structure, and economy more broadly.