The Mystery of Declining Labor Force Participation Continues

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Tyler Cowen says there have been a lot of papers about the declining labor force participation of men, so it’s about time we investigate the declining labor force participation of women. He recommends a paper by So Kubota, a job market candidate at Princeton.

Unfortunately, I ran into a huge roadblock. Kubota thinks the answer involves the rising cost of childcare, and that certainly sounds reasonable. But take a look at the chart on the right. It comes at the very beginning of a presentation based on his paper. I’ve excerpted just the part starting around the year 2000, since that’s when overall female labor force participation started to decline. What it shows is clear: participation rates for women with children declined less than rates for women without children.

What am I missing here? It seems perfectly sensible that rising childcare costs reduce the net income from market labor and therefore reduce the number of mothers who find it worthwhile to work outside the home. And I’m fully willing to accept that the costs of childcare have gone up over the past couple of decades. That should make a difference, and Kubota estimates that it’s reduced female labor force participation by 5 percent. But Kubota’s own chart suggests that it hasn’t had this effect. All the subsequent discussion of subsidies and market vs. home-based childcare doesn’t change that basic fact.

So the interesting question seems to be this: given that childcare costs have increased, why are labor force participation rates for mothers declining less than those for women without children? That’s a genuine mystery.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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