An economic mystery of the last few decades has been why more women aren’t working. A new paper offers one answer: Most plan to, but are increasingly caught off guard by the time and effort it takes to raise children.
The share of women in the United States labor force has leveled off since the 1990s, after steadily climbing for half a century. Today, the share of women age 25 to 54 who work is about the same as it was in 1995, even though in the intervening decades, women have been earning more college degrees than men, entering jobs previously closed to them and delaying marriage and childbirth.
The new analysis suggests something else also began happening during the 1990s: Motherhood became more demanding. Parents now spend more time and money on child care. They feel more pressure to breast-feed, to do enriching activities with their children and to provide close supervision.
The people most surprised by the demands of motherhood were those the researchers least expected: women with college degrees, or those who had babies later, those who had working mothers and those who had assumed they would have careers. Even though highly educated mothers were less likely to quit working than less educated mothers, they were more likely to express anti-work beliefs, and to say that being a parent was harder than they expected.
Though the study did not analyze fathers’ role in depth, it found that their beliefs did not change significantly before and after having a baby. They were less likely than women to say that parenthood was harder than they expected.
Totebaggers tend to plan their lives more than most, so parenthood was likely planned by most of us. Were you caught off guard by the price of parenthood? Did the actual price of parenthood affect subsequent decisions whether or not to have additional kids?