Despite numerous changes in women’s employment in the latter half of the twentieth century, women’s employment continues to be uneven and stalled. Drawing from data on women’s weekly work hours in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), we identify significant inequality in women’s labor force experiences across adulthood. We find two pathways of stable full-time work for women, three pathways of part-time employment, and a pathway of unpaid labor. A majority of women follow one of the two full-time work pathways, while fewer than 10 % follow a pathway of unpaid labor. Our findings provide evidence of the lasting influence of work–family conflict and early socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages on women’s work pathways. Indeed, race, poverty, educational attainment, and early family characteristics significantly shaped women’s work careers. Work–family opportunities and constraints also were related to women’s work hours, as were a woman’s gendered beliefs and expectations. We conclude that women’s employment pathways are a product of both their resources and changing social environment as well as individual agency. Significantly, we point to social stratification, gender ideologies, and work–family constraints, all working in concert, as key explanations for how women are “tracked” onto work pathways from an early age.
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The created Work History files have the same variables calculated “since the last interview,” but we use the calendar year variables to match interview year with year of age. Because of the low attrition in the NLSY, this excludes very little employment data.
Work hours are topcoded at 80+ hours per week to aid in model convergence. Less than 1 % of women worked more than 80 hours per week at a main job at each wave. Results do not change when work hours remain continuous, but some models do not achieve convergence.
Individuals are assigned to groups with varying probabilities of placement. As such, descriptive statistics by group are not precise unless they are weighted to adjust for each individual’s probability of correct placement (Nagin 2005:91). Thus, we do not provide descriptive statistics according to pathways of workforce participation, but they are available upon request.
To construct county-level unemployment rates during young adulthood, we use the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) versions of the Current Population Survey from 1979–1984 (King et al. 2010) and historical Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports of employment status by state and county. We merge these data with the restricted NLSY79 Geocode data identifying respondents’ states and counties of residence at each interview to calculate variables for women’s labor market opportunities between ages 19 and 22.
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Both authors contributed equally to the article. We deeply appreciate the critical feedback from the Demography Editor and reviewer, and also the thoughtful comments on the revision from Gordon De Jong and Michelle Frisco. We also thank Jamie Lynch, Bobby Jones, Natasha Sarkisian, Kristen Schultz Lee, Heather Jacobson, Richard Petts, and Emily Greenman for their helpful comments and critiques on earlier drafts of this article. We acknowledge assistance provided by the Population Research Institute at Penn State University, which is supported by an infrastructure grant by the National Institutes of Health (2R24HD041025-11). This research was conducted with restricted access to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the BLS.
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Damaske, S., Frech, A. Women’s Work Pathways Across the Life Course. Demography 53, 365–391 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0464-z
- Workforce participation
- Life course
- Socioeconomic status