Last week, the Council on Contemporary Families released the 6th annual Unconventional Wisdom with a focus on families and technology. Check out all the cool stuff here—27 briefs of underreported research findings on the topic. A final word on diversity, technology, and changing lives comes from economists at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), whose work warns us against overstating the impact of technology and reminds us of the importance of the ongoing gender revolution. John Schmitt, a senior economist, contributed the following to the volume.
From the 1970s until today, we have experienced a technological and digital revolution that has changed the way we live and work, with profound implications for the economy and social policy. But the gender revolution in the same period has been equally if not more significant in its economic repercussions.
In a recent study, economists Eileen Appelbaum (CEPR),Heather Boushey (Washington Center for Equitable Growth) and I used the Current Population Survey to document the steep rise in paid work by women and mothers since the late 1970s. Since 1979, the typical woman has increased her number of hours of paid work per year by 739 (to 1,664 in 2012). Over the same period, the annual hours of paid work by the typical mother increased by 960 (to 1,560 in 2012). By 2012, the majority of women (67.8%) — and an even higher percentage of mothers (72.0%) — between the ages of 16 and 64 were working, most working full time throughout the year.
These extra hours of paid work have made all the difference to families—and to the economy more generally. Middle-class households would have substantially lower earnings today if women’s employment patterns had remained unchanged. According to our calculations, gross domestic product (GDP) would have been roughly 11 percent lower in 2012 if women had not increased their working hours as they did. In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output—roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.
To put this revolution of women’s work in context, consider that the 11 percent increase in women’s contribution to the GDP is almost twice the 6 percent contribution to GDP of the information, communications and technology-producing industries combined in 2012.