The ones behind the revolution: Who are the ones staying out of the labour force in Denmark and in the USA?

Luize Ratniece, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Although formal labour force participation of both men and women has been the norm in Western economies for the last five decades, not everybody is strongly attached to the labour market and the selection is not random. In this paper I look under what conditions do people remain out of the labour force, paying special attention to the importance of (a) gender among other variables and (b) the interaction between gender and family life trajectories. I am exploring these factors in two countries that were the pioneers of the gender revolution in labour market participation: Denmark and the USA. Although stemming from two different historical and institutional contexts, the timing of the massive influx of women in the labour force in 1970s coincide in both cases and until 1990s both countries seemed to be well on their way of reaching gender equality when it comes to women’s participation. However, now when the cohorts that pioneered the ‘quiet revolution’ in each of the countries have reached retirement age, it is clear that there are ‘pockets of resistance’ among women that haven’t been willing or able to attach themselves permanently to the labour market. Noting that also among men participation rates are not one hundred per cent, I am interested if in the pioneering cohorts (1957-1964) the ‘profile’ of the persons loosely attached to the labour force has been the same for both genders and, in case of a gender gap, to what extent can it be explained by traditional gender roles in family life. Aware of the profound differences that the two labour markets and policy frameworks for employment have, I have a differentiated set of expectations for each of them.

Although formal labour force participation of both men and women has been the norm in Western economies for the last five decades, not everybody is strongly attached to the labour market and the selection is not random. In this paper I look under what conditions do people remain out of the labour force, paying special attention to the importance of (a) gender among other variables and (b) the interaction between gender and family life trajectories. I am exploring these factors in two countries that were the pioneers of the gender revolution in labour market participation: Denmark and the USA. Although stemming from two different historical and institutional contexts, the timing of the massive influx of women in the labour force in 1970s coincide in both cases and until 1990s both countries seemed to be well on their way of reaching gender equality when it comes to women’s participation. However, now when the cohorts that pioneered the ‘quiet revolution’ in each of the countries have reached retirement age, it is clear that there are ‘pockets of resistance’ among women that haven’t been willing or able to attach themselves permanently to the labour market. Noting that also among men participation rates are not one hundred per cent, I am interested if in the pioneering cohorts (1957-1964) the ‘profile’ of the persons loosely attached to the labour force has been the same for both genders and, in case of a gender gap, to what extent can it be explained by traditional gender roles in family life. Aware of the profound differences that the two labour markets and policy frameworks for employment have, I have a differentiated set of expectations for each of them.

Presented in Session 1146: Economics, Human Capital, and Labour Markets