Workers are dropping out of the labor force in droves, and they are mostly women. In fact, many are young women. But they are not dropping out forever; instead, these young women seem to be postponing their working lives to get more education. There are now — for the first time in three decades — more young women in school than in the work force.
Many economists initially thought that the shrinking labor force — which drove down November’s unemployment rate— was caused primarily by discouraged older workers giving up on the job market. Instead, many of the workers on the sidelines are young people upgrading their skills, which could portend something like the postwar economic boom, when millions of World War II veterans went to college through the G.I. Bill instead of immediately entering, and overwhelming, the job market.
Now, as was the case then, one sex is the primary beneficiary. Though young women in their late teens and early 20’s view today’s economic lull as an opportunity to upgrade their skills, their male counterparts are more likely to take whatever job they can find. The longer-term consequences, economists say, are that the next generation of women may have a significant advantage over their male counterparts, whose career options are already becoming constrained.