Did Baby Boomers Opt Out Or Lean In?
Women in the labor force face challenges juggling work and family, which may mean temporarily putting careers on hold to marry and have children. In his new Demography article “Opting Out and Leaning In,” Javier Garcia-Manglano investigates the paths U.S. Baby Boom women followed into and out of jobs and careers.Using national data from more than 5,000 surveys of women born between 1944 and 1954, Garcia-Manglano found that women’s workforce trajectories can be classified into four groups: women who stayed steadily employed in middle age; women who worked most in young adulthood then decreased working time as they aged; women who gradually increased work time as they aged; and women who opted out of the labor force entirely. He identified specific factors affecting women’s career timing and duration, including spousal support or workplace discrimination. Declining health also contributed to women decreasing work time or stopping working altogether, while the need for income was a major factor keeping women in the job market.
Despite challenges to women’s labor force participation, Garcia-Manglano found that 40% of his sample (the largest single group he identified) stayed steadily employed through middle age. This means that, among Boomers, a great number were not forced to opt out of working due to family or health constraints. His findings also point to policy and culture changes that could support women’s employment throughout the life course. Yet another road paved by the Baby Boomer women who sought employment and wage equality and opened opportunities for future generations of women.