Saturday, February 6, 2010

Women a Majority, but for How Long?

Today's New York Times has more on the fraction of market jobs held by women. This summer, that fraction (as measured by the establishment survey; the household survey still show more men employed) will likely fall back below 50%, but the article (and my blog post) say that the percentage will remain high for a long time.

It will be high over the next several years, perhaps exceeding 50 percent again. But 15 or 20 years from now, it could be a lot lower.

To see this, you have to understand why women increased their market work so much. Microwaves and dishwashers are not going away, and they make it easier to both work in the market and take care of the home, but the main reason why women worked in the market so much more in the 1990s and 2000s than they did in the 1960s and 1970s is the WAGE STRUCTURE. Everyone still has their gender, but other characteristics like education, IQ, etc., became much more important as a determinant of productivity in the work place. Liberals lament this change in the wage structure, not realizing how it transformed women's lives.

But inconvenient truths are beside the point here, which is that the wage structure of the 1990s and 2000s is not permanent. Eventually (I have been waiting twenty years for this response, so don't expect it overnight!) the supply of human capital will respond to return the wage structure to something more like it was in the 1960s and 1970s. When that happens, education, IQ, etc. will not command such a premium, and cease to be so important relative to gender. Then the fraction of market jobs held by women will be much less than 50 percent.

Read more about this in my QJE article with Yona Rubinstein.

1 comment:

fl said...

I think you will have to wait a lot longer for the supply response in skills. The observed trends in school enrollment and graduation rates in the US as well as changes in ability scores over the last 30 years are not nearly large enough to make much of a tend in rise of the skill premia observed over the last decades. Indeed, if skill biased technical change continues at the rate documented by Katz and Murphy (1992) and Autor, Katz, and Kearney (2008), then I expect returns to education to continue to widen. If there is a reaction to the widening in the skill premia, then I don't expect this response to come from the US supply of skill.