Saturday, October 15, 2005

Women in the Workforce

After two straight posts on mind-altering chemicals of both the legal and illegal variety, I thought it was time to write about a topic with a little more intellectual rigor.

While looking into potential paper topics for students in my economics class, I came across this old article from Slate that looks at what caused the increased participation of women in the workforce. The research indicates that theincrease in women working outside the home can be traced largely to the widespread availability of household appliances like electric irons and washing machines.

Reading this reminded me of a question I have long pondered - what has the greater presence of women in jobs receiving paid wages (and therefore recorded in GDP statistics) done to economic growth over the past 50 years? We're in the midst of a long trend of pretty significant growth in material wealth over that period, while at the same time we've had huge increases in the number of women working outside the home. The fact that 50% of the population is now much more directly involved in the formal economy is bound to create significant multipliers. The question is, how much of the gowth is due to the presence of women in the workforce, and how much would have occured anyway? And perhaps more importantly, what are the economic costs (in terms of missed opportunities for growth) for countries and societies that do not have widespread participation of women in the formal labor market?

Ideally, one would like to compare the economic data from two countries with relatively similar economies except for the participation of women in the workforce and see how their economic growth has differed over time. This is something I would like to spend some time looking into when I get the chance. If anyone has any insights or is aware of any research on this topic, send it my way.


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