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Recent Evidence on the Job Search Effort of Unemployed Females

In looking for causes of the high unemployment rate that followed the Great Recession, economists focused a lot of attention on the decision-making behaviors of the unemployed, particularly the amount of effort they spent searching for a job. Job search effort is often measured by the amount of time the unemployed spend searching. In recent work, we found that females with at least a bachelor’s degree spent much less time searching for a job than males with the same level of education. In this article we examine some of the factors that determine the amount of time that unemployed females spend on job search and whether these factors have changed since the Great Recession.

Data on job search time come from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). The ATUS asks respondents how much time they spent on various activities in the previous day. Activities classified as job search include sending out resumes, conducting interviews, commuting to interviews, asking for information, and looking for information on the internet or in the newspaper. We combine these activities to get the total time unemployed women with at least a bachelor’s degree “typically” spent searching for a job.

We considered whether there might be differences in job search times based on females’ marital status or whether they had children. For example, since women in households with young children spend more time on childcare than the men in those households (article), we might suspect that women with children have to trade off time spent searching for a job in favor of time spent on child care. Looking at subgroups of unemployed women defined according to these characteristics, we find large differences in average job search time between married and unmarried women, as well as between women who have children and women who do not.

Average Job Search Time of Unemployed Females with Bachelor's degree of More by Demographic Characteristics

When we look at job search time before and after the Great Recession, we can see that while marital status is still related to the amount of time spent searching for a job, both married and unmarried women’s job search time increased. This is less true for women by child status. Unemployed women with no children increased their time spent searching for a job after the onset of the Great Recession, while unemployed women with children did not respond as much

Average Job Search Time of Unemployed Females with Bachelor's degree or More by Marital Status and time Period

Average Job Search Time of Unemployed Females with Bachelor's Degree or More by Child Status and Time Period

If we drill farther down, we see that among women with no children, those who are married increased their job search time even more than the unmarried with no children. For unemployed women with children, the key driver of job search time seems to be their marital status. Unemployed women with children who are also married spend much less time searching for a job than any other group. While the composition of these groups of women may have changed over the time period under consideration, these changes most likely represent a response to the Great Recession.

Average Job Search Time of Unemplyed Females with Bachelor's Degree or More by Demographic characteristics and Time Period

The result of these recent trends is that the Great Recession has made search time much closer to equal for all groups of unemployed women with at least a bachelor’s degree, except married women with children. All other groups of women with this level of education now spend, on average, relatively similar amounts of time searching for a job. This differs from the pre-recession period, when marital status alone seemed to be the key determinant of the time unemployed women with this level of education searched for a job.

Our findings show that historical patterns in the job search behavior of the unemployed have changed for some groups since the Great Recession. Taking these changes into account could help our thinking about the relative importance of factors contributing to unemployment, such as changes in labor demand, labor supply, or unemployment insurance policies.

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