December 14 2011

Women’s Employment Choices

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

Yesterday, Slate was shocked – shocked! – by the results of a new study by the National Marriage Project which found that once women have children, they make different employment decisions. As the author notes with dismay, “When asked their work preferences, 58 percent of mothers say they want to work part-time, and only 33 percent say they want to work full-time. Contrast that with the work preferences of fathers: a whopping 78 percent say they want to work full-time, and only 20 percent say they want to work part-time.”

As my colleagues Carrie and Sabrina have written for many years, it’s differing choices like this – as well as the danger and type of occupation – that helps to explain the wage gap that allegedly “oppresses” women.

Are these findings bad? Not necessarily. Technological advances like broadband internet and smart phones have enabled increasing numbers of women to work from home or to work at odd hours to accommodate their families – so women today don’t necessarily face the conundrum of choosing between a full-time job in an office or not working at all.

Unfortunately, other developments in the workforce have impacted women’s opportunities to find jobs – such as things like health care mandates, minimum wage laws, and paid sick leave. All of these things raise the cost of hiring for employers – who often address these challenges by hiring fewer workers or limiting hours available to employees to skirt these rules.

At the end of the day, the best way to get women into the workforce (be it full-time or part-time, as they so choose) is to allow terms of employment to be decided between employees and employers. When bureaucrats try to impose one-size-fits-all conditions on the market, it’s likely that they’ll end up doing more harm than good.

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