Economists have known that single women were far more likely to lose their jobs during the Great Recession. As a matter of fact, the employment gap between single and married women was as large as the employment gap one between women and men. However, unmarried women started losing their jobs well before the recession began. This puzzles the experts who have been analyzing data on this issue.
According to a paper presented today at a major macroeconomics conference by Johns Hopkins economist Robert Moffitt, the rising unemployment of this nation’s Great Recession actually began in the year 2000. Until that time, women’s employment was steadily rising. However, after about 2000 it began to level out, and single women’s employment began a marked decline. Between 1999 and 2007, Moffitt found that married women’s employment fell by about 0.3%, while the figure for single women dropped by 2.9%.
The early 2000s was the era of the so-called “opt-out revolution.” In 2003, New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin used that term to describe well-educated women who dropped out of the labor force to raise children. Nine years later, this is still being observed. Most conversations about opting out focus on married women. However, if unmarried moms were able to opt out without a partner’s income to rely on, that wouldn’t explain the employment drop. This trend was especially prevalent among women without children. Employment among childless single women dropped by 3.5% between 1999 and 2007. Among single mothers, it dropped just 0.4%.
Moffitt is not sure what caused the drop. He writes that some of the decline in employment among men between 1999 and 2007 can be explained by known factors like changes in non-labor income. However, these factors don’t explain the drop among single women at all. He closes his report stating that there is a need for further study on this matter to explain the drop in employment among single women.