The presence of children in the home is what changes it all for women.
If a young woman has a child living with her — whether she is married, unmarried with a partner or single — she is more likely not to be employed. For men, the opposite was true — children drove them to work.
Those were some of the findings by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from a longitudinal study of Americans born in the early 1980s, as the government agency seeks to understand the factors that affect a generation of citizens and its relationship to the job market.
In 1997, the bureau found a cohort of 9,000 people who were 12 to 17 years old — born from 1980 to 1984 — and interviewed them for the first time. The latest round of data comes from the group’s 15th round of interviews conducted in 2011 and 2012 and focused on the year they turned 27.
What the researchers found was that the women in the group — all of them are among the generation called millennials — tended to be more educated by the time they were 27 than were the men.
The young people who did finish college worked an average of 4.5 jobs from when they were 18 through when they were 22 — the years they would typically have also been in college — and they were out of the labor force less than a third of the time.
“I was surprised by the amount of work effort they all seem to be putting in,” said Heidi Hartmann, the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., policy group.
Thirty-two percent of the women held bachelor’s degrees while 23.9 percent of men had finished college. Meanwhile, a slightly higher percentage of men (9.3 percent) were high school dropouts than women (8.1 percent).
Even among those who started college, women were more likely to graduate. Seventy percent of the women in the group started college, with 46 percent of them receiving a bachelor’s degree by the time they were 27. For men, 61 percent started college with 39 percent finishing their degree by the time they were 27.
There also was a disparity of educational attainment along racial lines. While 7.1 percent of white respondents dropped out of high school, 12.4 percent of black 27-year-olds had, as had 13.6 percent of Hispanics. On the other end of the educational scale, whites were more than twice as likely to have finished college (32.7 percent) than blacks (15.3 percent) or Hispanics (14.5 percent).
As with in every generation before them, the arrival of children made a huge difference in the lives of the millennials.
Men and women without children were found in the labor force at almost the same rate, with men at a rate of 79.1 percent and women at 80.6 percent. For people with children, men’s labor force participation rate was 86.4 percent and women’s was 71.7 percent.
Hartman said the reason many women with children drop out of the labor force is the lack of paid leave or paid child care in the U.S. Women who have to leave work to care for newborn children are out of the workforce longer than those who have paid leave. And countries that have state-sponsored child care have higher working rates for women.
For low-income women, she said, it doesn’t make economic sense to go back to work and pay for child care.
The millennials are also seeing other similarities with generations that have gone before them. For years, demographers have been saying that workers have to be prepared to hold several different jobs in their lifetimes. That has held true for those in the BLS survey. By the time they were 27, participants had worked an average of 6.2 jobs. The members of the cohort with a college degree had worked an average of 6.5 jobs.
Members of the generation who had started — but not completed — college or who held an associate’s degree had worked 76.5 percent of the time since they turned 18. Those who finished college worked 74.5 percent of the time.
The group who had given up on working the most, and were out of the labor market the longest, were those who did not finish high school. They spent more than a third of the time from ages 18 to 26 neither working nor looking for work.