Here's the problem: People are living longer and young people are having fewer children, especially in the world's industrialized economies. These trends threaten to shrink the supply of skilled labor, restrain economic growth and, ultimately, lower living standards in the developed world. Only one person can save us from a future of slow decline: Mom.
A growing number of policymakers, academics and business leaders conclude that long-term economic growth hinges on wide participation in the workforce of women with children. As the supply of skilled labor shrinks in most advanced economies, women, who have begun to outpace men in educational achievement, are increasingly seen as a critical and largely untapped asset.
"In many [industrialized economies, an] increasing female (especially maternal) labor supply is seen as being important to maintaining economic growth and ensuring sustainable pension and social protection systems more generally," according to a new study, called "Babies & Bosses" by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The E.U. has targeted a female employment rate of at least 60% for its member countries by 2010.
The study ranks countries based on the percentage of women with children who were employed in 2006, breaking down the data into two categories for each country--the percentage of women with one child who are employed and the percentage of women with two or more children who are employed. Our list ranks the countries according to the average percentage of women employed in both categories.
European countries have had the greatest success integrating women with children into the workforce. In 2006, female employment rates rose above 80% in Iceland and were over 70% in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. In fact, it has been so successful that in several European countries, women with children are more likely to be employed than women without children. Why do working moms matter so much? Fewer women will join or seriously commit to the workforce if they know having a child will end their careers.
"Working mothers have become the biggest issue in most countries," said Shelley Correll, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University. "European countries have taken aggressive steps to increase the number of mothers participating in the workforce, because they feel it is in their interests to keep them fully engaged in the labor force."
These policies have proved extremely effective in many countries. In Iceland, mothers are more likely to work than women without children. Nearly 90% of all mothers in Iceland are employed, which makes it the country with the largest share of moonlighting mothers.
Iceland is not the only country where mothers are more likely to be employed than women without children; in at least six other countries, moms are more likely to be employed than non-moms--at least for mothers with only a single child. In Portugal, mothers with more than one child are more likely to be part of the workforce than women with no children.