5 Ways Banning Abortion Could Harm Women in the Workforce
Roe vs. Wade is almost certain to be reversed, which could effectively make abortion illegal in about half of the US states. If this happens, historical data tells us that not only will it affect women personally, but it will also jeopardize their professional lives.
This decision, a draft of which has been leaked to Politico earlier this month affects a woman’s likelihood of working, the type of job she takes, the level of education she receives, the amount of money she earns, and even hopes and the dreams she has for herself. In turn, her career affects nearly every other aspect of her life, from her likelihood of living in poverty to her view of herself.
And removing the ability to make that decision will upend decades of progress women have made in the workforce, with cascading effects on women’s place in society.
As Caitlin Myers, professor of economics at Middlebury College, has said, “Motherhood is the single most important economic decision most women make.”
We know all of this from decades of research on how abortion bans harm women — research that Myers, along with more than 150 other economists, described in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationthe case of Mississippi which is likely to spill Roe vs. Wade. In addition to long-term studies looking specifically at the outcomes of women who were unable to have abortions versus those who did, there is even stronger data on the negative causal effects of having children. about women in general. It’s also just common sense, according to Jason Lindo, an economics professor at Texas A&M University.
“Anyone who has had kids or seriously thought about having kids knows that it’s very costly in terms of time and money,” Lindo said. “So, of course, restrictions that make it harder for people to time when they have children or that increase the number of children they have are going to have serious impacts on their careers and their economic situation.”
Even in the absence of a national ban, the state’s anti-abortion measures have been a huge burden on women and society as a whole. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) valued that state-level restrictions have cost these economies $105 billion a year in reduced labor force participation, lower incomes, increased business and time off among women in working age.
Nor will an abortion ban affect all women equally. Myers says that in parts of the country where abortion is banned and where travel distances will increase for women to get abortions, about three-quarters of women who seek abortions will still do so. That means about a quarter of the women there — in Myers’ words, “the poorest, most vulnerable, and most financially fragile women in a wide swath of the Deep South and Midwest” — won’t receive their health services.
As the United States faces a continuing labor shortage – a shortage led in part by women who have left the labor market to care for children and the elderly during the pandemic – the Supreme Court’s expected ruling will make matters worse and potentially change women’s experience in the workforce for years to come.
1) The participation of women in the labor market could decline
Access to abortion is a major force that has increases the participation of women in the labor market. Nationally, female labor force participation rates have risen from about 40 percent before Roe vs. Wade was adopted in 1973 to nearly 60 percent before the pandemic (male participation was almost 70% at that time). Abortion bans could thwart or even reverse some of these gains.
Using data from the Rejection studylandmark research that compares outcomes over time for women across the country who received or were denied abortions, University of California San Francisco professor Diana Greene Foster and fellow researchers found that six months after being denied an abortion, women were less likely to be employed full-time than those who had an abortion. This difference remained significant for four years after these women were denied abortion, a discrepancy that could affect their job prospects even further in the future.
2) Lower education level
Education rates are fundamental to career prospects and earnings. A 1996 study by Joshua Angrist and William Evans examined states that liberalized abortion laws before Roe vs. Wade and found that access to abortion leads to higher education rates and labor market outcomes. American University economics professor Kelly Jones used state abortion regulation data to determine that legal access to abortion for young women who became pregnant increased their level of education by almost a year and their probability of completing university by about 20 percentage points. The evidence is largely driven by the impacts on young black women.
Other to research by Jones and Mayra Pineda-Torres found that mere exposure to targeted restrictions on abortion providers, or TRAP laws, reduced the likelihood that young black adolescents would attend or complete school. In turn, the low level of education affects the jobs for which women are qualified.
3) The types of jobs women will get will be more restricted
Having children dramatically affects the types of jobs women get, often steering them into part-time jobs or lower-paying jobs. As a broader abortion ban looms on the horizon, many states have already enacted TRAP laws that make it harder to get an abortion. This legislation also provided a natural experiment for researchers like Kate Bahn, chief economist of the nonprofit Washington Center for Equitable Growth, who found that women in these states were less likely to move into higher paying professions.
“We know from a lot of previous research on the initial expansion of birth control pills and abortion care in the 1970s that when women have a little more certainty about their family planning, they just make different choices,” said Bahn told Recode.
This could lead to more occupational segregation — the overrepresentation of women in certain fields such as health and education, for example — which reduces salaries in these fields, even taking into account education, experience and location.
4) All of the above negatively affects income
Reducing the number of jobs women get, missing out on the labor market, getting less education – all of this hurts women’s wages, which are already lower on average than men’s.
A paper by economist Ali Abboud who examined states where abortion was legal before Roe vs. Wade found that young women who had an abortion to delay an unplanned pregnancy for just one year had an 11% increase in their hourly wages over the average. Jones to research found that legal access to abortion for young pregnant women increased their likelihood of entering a profession by 35 percentage points.
IWPR estimates that if existing abortion restrictions were lifted, women across the United States would earn an average of $1,600 more per year. The loss of income does not only affect women who have unwanted pregnancies, but also their families and their existing children. Income, in turn, affects poverty rates not only of women who have to suffer an unwanted pregnancy, but also of their existing children.
5) Lack of access to abortion limits women’s professional aspirations
Perhaps more insidiously, the lack of access to abortion seriously limits women’s hopes for their own careers. Based on his team’s research from the Turnaway Study, Foster found that women who were unable to obtain a desired abortion were much less likely to have job-related one-year goals than those who did, likely because those goals would be much harder to achieve while caring for a newborn. They were also less likely to be a year or five years ambitious goals in general.
Limiting women’s autonomy over their reproductive rights reinforces women’s unequal status in both concrete and ephemeral ways, C. Nicole Mason, IWPR President and CEO, told Recode.
“It’s a very psychic, emotional, psychological feeling – to feel and understand that my equality, my rights, are less than those of my male counterparts,” she said. “The law does it that way. The Supreme Court does so.