“She’s gonna change the world. She’s gonna make the world a better world.” – Sesame Street

It says a lot about my life when I’m linking the week’s news to a catchy Sesame Street ditty about girls changing the world (watch the video… it will stick with you!). But it’s ringing in my ears as I digest the recent data on employment, which shows that while women as a whole are helping push the economy forward by joining the workforce in larger numbers, some with higher-earning spouses are also quitting.

The stats on those getting hired

In the last two months, more than twice as many women as men have been added to the workforce (see chart), according to NYT. The Times credits this growth in part to the high number of new female college graduates and the strong demand for educated workers, and also to the specific sectors that are currently hiring, such as health care and education.Overall the economy has added around 245,000 jobs a month for the last three months–strong numbers–but at the same time, more people jumped into the active job search pool, which is why the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.3% in February.

The stats on those getting out

Meanwhile, in another part of the working world, an upcoming Federal Reserve report is said to show that well-educated women who marry higher-income earners are leaving the workforce. From Reuters: 

–It shows that between 1993 and 2006, there was a decline in the workforce of 0.1 percent a year on average in the number of college- educated women with similarly educated spouses.

That contrasts with growth of 2.4 percent a year between 1976 and 1992.

The result: the labor force in 2008 had 1.64 million fewer such women than if the growth rate had kept up its earlier trend, slightly more than 1 percent of the total workforce in that year.–

The Reuters article goes on to say that during the recession of 2007-2009, the number of educated women leaving the workforce stalled. But the exit picked up again as the economy improved, with this trend happening at various income levels, not just among the wealthy.

So what does all this mean?

There are many ways to look at this information: Education begets higher incomes, begets the luxury of one parent not working to take care of children, run the house, etc. Or, the high expenses of childcare render a spouse’s (often the woman’s) salary a wash, so the woman stops working.

But it also prompts an interesting discussion about whether women who can afford to leave financially do so because they don’t want to work, or because they can’t find the right kind of work.

One conservative WSJ columnist summed up the Reuters story saying the opportunities afforded by the feminist movement have made way for the “unchained woman”–a woman who isn’t tied to her desk every day, and the emergence of a two-tiered culture–those who are unchained and those who aren’t.

We all know that when it comes to working and raising children, flexibility is huge. My theory is that in many cases, highly educated women who can afford to not work quit because they can’t find a work scenario that works for them. If one is chained to the desk, there’s no flexibility.

It’s too bad when highly educated women leave the workplace–their skill set is valuable to the economy, and their experience can help younger women climbing the ranks. Corporations would benefit from letting experienced women step back for a few years to have kids and then rev up again–they don’t lose all the time and money they’ve invested in the talent. 

Final thoughts!

Of course, I’m curious what you think, so please share your comments (Did you leave your job? Why? Would you have stayed if you found a more flexible situation? If you work full time, have you found flexibility that works?)


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