The claim that mothers who work full-time outside the home do so out of economic necessity finds little support from evidence showing that the percentage of mothers in the labor force is greatest among the wives of top-earning males. It also flies in the face of a study by feminist scholars that finds that privileged, white women have higher rates of employment today relative to minorities, a reversal of the situation from fifty years ago when minority women had significantly higher rates of employment.
Using the 2001 Current Population Survey, the researchers compared the extent of employment (measured by the number of weeks worked in the previous year) of whites, blacks, and Latinas. Although employment rates among black and white women were the same in 1980, the rates for white women narrowly surpassed those for black women in 2000. The employment gap was greater among the Latinas, particularly those of Mexican and Puerto Rican origin, who worked less than both blacks and whites.
Their parallel analysis of 1994 data found that employment rates were lower for all groups of women then, but that the gap between whites and minorities was greater than in 2000. The researchers suggest that welfare reform and the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit since that time has bumped up minority employment closer to that of whites. Yet among all women in both years, education encouraged while childbearing reduced employment rates.
While they do not consider that the higher employment rates of white women may not represent a pattern that minority women should follow, the scholars nonetheless maintain that an “unquestionably greater need for employment” no longer drives women into the workforce as it once did.
(Source: Paula England, Carmen Garcia-Beaulieu, and Mary Ross, “Women’s Employment Among Blacks, Whites, and Three Groups of Latinas: Do More Privileged Women Have Higher Employment?” Gender & Society 18 : 494-509.)
(Information from The Howard Center)
For an interesting article and some anecdotal evidence on women working by choice, go here.