Opting out? Cohort differences in professional women's employment rates from 1960 to 2005

Christine Percheski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

113 Scopus citations

Abstract

Over the past 50 years, women's roles have changed dramatically - a reality captured by substantial increases in employment and reductions in fertility. Yet, the social organization of work and family life has not changed much, leading to pervasive work-family conflict. Observing these strains, some scholars wonder whether U.S. women's high employment levels are sustainable. Women's employment in professional and managerial occupations - the core of the analyses offered in this article - merits particular interest because of the material and symbolic implications for gender equality. In a cohort analysis of working-age women born between 1906 and 1975, I show that employment levels among college-educated women in professional and managerial occupations have increased across cohorts. Full-time, year-round employment rates continue to rise across cohorts, even among women in historically male professions and mothers of young children. Although labor force participation rates have stopped rising, they have stalled at a very high rate, with less than 8 percent of professional women born since 1956 out of the labor force for a year or more during their prime childbearing years. Moreover, the difference in employment rates between mothers and childless women - the "child penalty" - is shrinking across cohorts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-517
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Volume73
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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