, Volume 52, Issue 6, pp 1961–1993 | Cite as

Opting Out and Leaning In: The Life Course Employment Profiles of Early Baby Boom Women in the United States

  • Javier García-ManglanoEmail author


Most literature on female employment focuses on the intersection between women’s labor supply and family events such as marriage, divorce, or childbearing. Even when using longitudinal data and methods, most studies estimate average net effects over time and assume homogeneity among women. Less is known about diversity in women’s cumulative work patterns over the long run. Using group-based trajectory analysis, I model the employment trajectories of early Baby Boom women in the United States from ages 20 to 54. I find that women in this cohort can be classified in four ideal-type groups: those who were consistently detached from the labor force (21 %), those who gradually increased their market attachment (27 %), those who worked intensely in young adulthood but dropped out of the workforce after midlife (13 %), and those who were steadily employed across midlife (40 %). I then explore a variety of traits associated with membership in each of these groups. I find that (1) the timing of family events (marriage, fertility) helps to distinguish between groups with weak or strong attachment to the labor force in early adulthood; (2) external constraints (workplace discrimination, husband’s opposition to wife’s work, ill health) explain membership in groups that experienced work trajectory reversals; and (3) individual preferences influence labor supply across women’s life course. This analysis reveals a high degree of complexity in women’s lifetime working patterns, highlighting the need to understand women’s labor supply as a fluid process.


Employment trajectories Person-centered Life course Preferences Fertility 



I am grateful to Suzanne M. Bianchi and Joan R. Kahn for mentorship; to Frances Goldscheider, Alexandra Killewald, Spencer L. James, and Philip N. Cohen for helpful feedback; and to Ozan Aksoy for statistical assistance.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nuffield College and Department of SociologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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