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Women still taking "off-ramps," despite recession

Wednesday, June 9, 2010  
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Considering its severity, the recession hasn't had a huge dampening effect on the number of high-achieving women choosing to voluntarily leave their jobs for an extended period of time, according to a study published in the June 2010 issue of  the Harvard Business Review. Those who do leave, however, are out of work longer.

Comparing 2004 survey results to those from a similar poll last fall, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Laura Sherbin and Diana Foster of the Center for Work-Life Policy found the number of "off-rampers" dropped six points to 31 percent. However, women who did off-ramp were staying out of work longer, by about half a year.

With the unemployment rate doubling over the past five years, working women may be more reluctant to leave their jobs, and those without jobs are finding it difficult to return to work, the trio noted. Indeed, one-fifth of the women trying to on-ramp reported having a hard time on-ramping because of the economy.

The dip in women in the number of women who are off-ramping may reflect, in part, their inability to afford taking time off. Hewlett, Sherbin and Foster found a 28-percent increase in professional women with nonworking husbands in the five years between the two studies. The trio said this was not likely an indication of changing social attitudes about breadwinners. Instead, they noted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported nonworking people are unable to find jobs, with the average number of weeks unemployed jumping from 19 in 2004 to 27 last year. The number of people unemployed for more than 27 weeks grew from 1.7 million to 5.4 million, while the number who’ve stopped looking for jobs surpassed 1 million for the first time in a decade.

Even so, they noted, a six-point drop in off-rampers is relatively small given the economic crisis and the growing number of households with nonworking men. A nonlinear career path is not a luxury for boom times, they suggested, but one way many women choose to structure their careers regardless of the economy.

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