Why Are Middle-Aged Women Dropping Out of The Workforce?

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 06/24/2014 | 11:45 AM EDT

About one million women in late 40s, early 50s left their jobs just as they were reaching their peak earning years

While women in their late 40s to early 50s should typically be at their career prime, new data is revealing that many of them have dropped out of the workforce since the recession.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that middle-aged women left their jobs just as they were reaching their peak earning years. But it’s the cause of such departures that’s become a point of interest.


Women of this age group are experiencing growing demands of having to care for their parents. Difficult economic times have forced many families to share resources, however, it’s not the only reason for the shift. Some economists also attribute the unexpected phenomenon to extensive budget cuts by state and local governments, which employ women in large numbers and were hit harder during this recession than in previous economic downturns.

Since the start of the recession, the number of working women 45 to 54 has dropped more than 3.5 percent. There are now about one million fewer women of that age in the labor force than at their peak at the end of 2009. For younger women the rate of decline was about 2 percent. Many of those in their 20s dropped out to return to school or left the workforce temporarily to focus on caring for young children.

The fact that more elderly people are living longer is believed to be much of the reason many middle-age women are deciding to turn in their resignation letters. As The New York Times points out, most employers do not offer flexible schedules for workers caring for elderly family members. In addition, women in their 40s and 50s are stuck between caring for aging parents and their own dependent children, including young adults still living at home.


A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2013 reported that 27 percent of
the women surveyed had quit their job to care for a child or family member.

The Times reports:

The decline in public employment also appears to have played a major role in the exodus of middle-aged working women. Between September 2008 and April of this year, 640,000 state and local government workers lost their jobs, according to Labor Department data. Almost half were in education, an industry where a typical employee is a woman in her 40s.

Some economists think jobs for women in education and other fields will come back eventually, assuming the economy picks up steam and government budgets improve.

For women laid off after having settled into a career, the hurdles, both real and imagined, can be significant, according to job counselors. Middle age is a fragile time, they say, and older women often lack the confidence of younger women when forced to look for a new job. They also face the challenges of all older workers: Employers may view them as too expensive, overqualified or out of touch with the changing demands of the workplace.

 (Photo: Sean De Burca/Corbis)

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