Women’s Work Choices: Post-feminism or Brutal Economics?

In her post on girls’ abilities in mathematics, Jender said:

Prediction: if this comes to widely accepted, expect lots more stories about how girls are innately predisposed not to like doing stuff that involves maths– gotta explain the dearth of women in science and maths in such a way that nobody has to worry about it.

Turns out, no surprise, that that pattern of explanation is showing up elsewhere.  Judith Warner in the NY Times remarks:

It has happened like clockwork. In the past two economic downturns, as job losses have forced women out of the workplace, a sort of angel has appeared to guide their way and re-label their unfortunate circumstances as virtuous “choice.”

Economists, sociologists and other academics who rigorously track workplace trends and work-life issues have been saying for years that this self-realized creature with her new, post-feminist home and hearth priorities, is a chimera.

So why or in what ways are being forced out?  Warner’s explanations:  Child-care costs equal one’s take home salary, the workplace is hostile, and/or one is let go.  And recently the latter has become a particularly serious factor:

While prior recessions tended to spare women’s jobs relative to men’s, that trend has been reversed in the current downturn, thanks in part to women’s progress in entering formerly male industries and occupations, and in part to the fact that job sectors like service and retail, which still employ disproportionate numbers of women, have suffered disproportionate losses. And this — not a calling to motherhood — accounts for the fall, starting in 2000, of women’s labor force participation rates.

I can’t wait for the hiring figures for 2009 in philosophy to come out.   Ours isn’t even a formerly male occupation.

There are two particularly nice features of Warner’s report.  First, she stresses that the picture of women’s choices is being construction by in part ignoring the research of “economists, sociologists and other academics.”  You know how that goes; let’s ignore the elites and say what we feel is true.  Secondly, she links to a very recent congressional report that puts paid to the myth of choice and calls for some sensible remedial measures.