25 May 2009

How Many American Women Are Homemakers?

The census bureau doesn't directly define "homemaker," but it does keep statistics that come close to answering the question of how many American women are homemakers?

There are about 90 million American women aged 20-64, of whom 29% are not in the workforce, i.e. not employed and not looking for paid employment (about 17% of men the same age are not in the workforce, a status that includes students, early retirees, prison inmates and people discouraged from looking for work). People with lower levels of educations are much more likely to be out of the workforce than those with higher levels of education.

Typically, adults age sixty-five or older who are not in the workforce are considered "retired" rather than to be "homemakers" regardless of their prior employment history. Students and pre-school children are also not considered to be in the workforce. The number of women aged 20-64 is overinclusive, because it includes, for example, adults living with their parents, or alone, who have become discouraged in their search for work, perhaps due to a disability, older college students, and early retirees. It may also include institutionalized adults in prison. But, it is also underinclusive, as it excludes women under the age of twenty who are not in the workforce such as teen parents living with a significant other, who would also generally be considered to be homemakers.

Still, for an order of magnitude number, this is close enough to peg the number of American women who are homemakers and not employed in paid work at something on the order of 15-25 million American women. While this is far less than a majority of adult American women, defying 1950s stereotypes (notably 64% of women with children under age six at home have paid employment), it is also probably still the most common occupation of adult, pre-retirement age American women.

There are about 300 million Americans overall across all ages and genders.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Prophet, interesting analysis. Now do you think the U.S. has suffered because more women work and do not stay home to care for their husbands and children? Is that too hard a question to quantify?

andrew said...

* If you want to look at "suffering" the first place to look is women who are not currently married or cohabiting who have children for whom they have primary parental responsibilities.

Some women end up this way because they didn't married (although most cohabited with the father of their children for a while) and their relationships fell apart; some women end up this way because they divorce.

Either way, breaking up very often leads to serious poverty for mothers and children until a new cohabiting relationship is established.

* Our society also, I think, too strongly encourages poor women to work despite the fact that the economic benefit of doing so net of child care costs is modest, when caring for their own children, especially when they are very young, would provide society with a greater benefit than, for example, having a woman with infants working a McDonald's and paying for child care while doing so (perhaps with public subsidies).

* Improved workplace opportunities for women, accompanied by stagnating workplace opportunities for men without college educations, combined, have profoundly increased divorce rates and discouraged marriage. Empirically, couples where the woman makes more than the man in income, and especially couples where the man is unemployed, are dramatically less stable than couples where a man is employed and has a larger income than the woman. But, two income households in which women have wider access to employment, have also made American families more affluent and freed up more resources for families.

Also, by virtue of technology and smaller families, there is simply less housework to be done today than there once was.