Dynamics of Women's Employment Patterns over the Family Life Course: A Comparison of the United States and Germany

By Drobnic, Sonja; Blossfeld, Hans-Peter et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Dynamics of Women's Employment Patterns over the Family Life Course: A Comparison of the United States and Germany


Drobnic, Sonja, Blossfeld, Hans-Peter, Rohwer, Gotz, Journal of Marriage and Family


We use event history analysis to study the effects of family-related factors on the employment behavior of U.S. and (West) German women in a dynamic life course perspective. Data from the National Survey of Families and Households and the German Socioeconomic Panel are analyzed to examine the differential determinants of entry into and exit from full-time and part-time employment during the family life course and the differences in these processes between the two countries. Marriage and childbearing continue to influence exit from and entry into paid work in both countries. Family structure plays a stronger role in women's working lives in Germany than in the U.S., and part-time work in Germany is more closely related to childbearing.

Key Words: cross-national comparison, event history analysis, family life course, part-time work, women's employment.

For women, the difficulty of combining employment and family responsibilities remains an obstacle for the achievement of equality in the labor market. Because women, in general, continue to assume the primary responsibility for child care and other household tasks, even in dual-earner couples (Presser, 1994), economists argue that this affects their choice of occupations, their time spent in paid employment, their work commitment, and their allocation of effort to household and workplace activities. Also, theorists in the neoclassical tradition explain occupational segregation and wage differentials between genders by pointing to individual preferences and self-selection of women into jobs that conflict less with the family.

Jobs considered compatible with household responsibilities and parenting allow women to maximize their earnings and minimize human capital depreciation in case of intermittent employment (Mincer & Ofek, 1982; Polachek, 1976, 1979). Availability of work at home, close proximity to the workplace, short working hours (Darian, 1975), as well as schedule flexibility and ease of job performance (Glass & Camarigg, 1992) are also desirable. The length of working time is particularly important when increased household and family demands compete with women's limited supply of time. One choice available to a working woman in contemporary Western societies, if she is unwilling to forego marriage and motherhood altogether, is to work part-time, particularly when she has young children (Bernhardt, 1993).

Household work and the presence of young children require extensive input of time that is difficult to combine with full-time employment. Because most women take primary responsibility for childrearing, working part-time should be a common strategy of mothers of young children. Parttime work may offer the flexibility required to meet family obligations and may allow women to maintain ties to the labor market. By combining the two tasks-part-time work and child carewomen can maximize their investments in both sectors. During childrearing, the value of women's time in household production is highest, but holding a part-time job prevents women's market capital from depreciating.

The role of part-time work in women's employment careers has been studied empirically by looking at its effects on women's wages, promotions, and other benefits (Corcoran, Duncan, & Ponza, 1984) or by examining whether women differ in their employment behavior after giving birth (cf. Desai & Waite, 1991). However, a direct link between family demands and part-time or full-time work has seldom been verified. (See, however, Blank, 1989; Perry, 1988.) Studies have been limited mostly to specific groups, such as married women (Long & Jones, 1981; Miller, 1993) or to specific transitions, such as women's return to work after the birth of the first child (Perry, 1990).

We examine the dynamic relationship between the family life cycle and women's employment patterns. We perform longitudinal analyses of individual-level data to investigate how fluctuating family responsibilities affect women's employment levels and work schedules in the United States and Germany. …

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