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147-gkpandp - Career and Marriage in the Age of the Pill...

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Career and Marriage in the Age of the Pill Claudia Goldin* Lawrence F. Katz* Genuine change in the economic and social status of U.S. women did not emanate simply from their increased labor force participation but, rather, from their increase in professions and as “career women.” Those changes first began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We examine here one factor of momentous importance in this break with the past. The Economist (December 31, 1999) recently named it the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century. It is the oral contraceptive, known worldwide by its moniker “the pill.” In 1960 18.4 percent of professionals were women, as were 4.7 percent of “high powered professionals.” 1 But in 1998 36.4 percent of professionals were women and 25.1 percent of the “high powered” subset were. We explore in this article a series of connections that link the birth control pill to the increase of women in professional occupations. Our evidence for the impact of the pill relies largely on the timing of various changes. Changes in laws giving minors certain adult rights and lowering the age of majority enabled young and unmarried women to obtain the pill. Young women’s control over their fertility directly reduced the costs to them of engaging in long-term career investments. The pill also served to increase the age at first marriage and thus indirectly reduced a potential penalty of delaying marriage to pursue professional education and training. All of these changes began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the late 1960s and early 1970s were years of tumultuous social and political change. How can we separate the impacts of affirmative action, the resurgence of feminism, changes in social norms, and abortion reform from the impact of the pill? The simple answer is that the
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