RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Lim, G. & Ng, S. (1998). Home-Based Married Women’s Inclination to Enter the Workforce in Singapore, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 6(1), 1-16.

Home-Based Married Women’s Inclination to Enter the Workforce in Singapore

Ghee-Soon Lim & Seow-Ling Ng

Abstract

This study compared three competing explanations for home-based women’s inclination to enter the workforce in Singapore: the sex-role perspective (i.e., felt need to stay at home to discharge family responsibilities), the utility perspective (i.e., perceived economic need to work for employment income), and the career-efficacy perspective (perceived capability to discharge work responsibilities effectively). Results based on a sample of 198 home-based women supported the traditional sex-role explanation and to a lesser extent, the utility perspective. The career-efficacy perspective, however, was not supported. Implications for policy makers and researchers were discussed.

Introduction

One of the most prominent phenomena in the last two decades in the world of work has been the increase in female participation in the labor force (Fox & Hesse-Biber, 1984; Martin & Roberts, 1984; Gutek & Larwood, 1987; Yohalem, 1980). The increase in females’ role at the workplace has been attributed to more married women’s returning to work after giving birth to children, as well as their tendency to disrupt from the labor force for a shorter period of time due to marriage, child-bearing, and child-rearing responsibilities (Martin & Roberts, 1984). Explanations offered for these social changes include improved social status of women, higher wages for female workers, changes in the structure of work, and others (Lichter & Costanzo, 1987; Fox & Hesse-Biber, 1984; Oppenheimer, 1982).

Female employment is unique in that females’ child-bearing and child-rearing roles typically affect their employment (Hock, Morgan, & Hock, 1985). Women usually do not follow the continuous work pattern like men. Rather, they tend to experience interruptions in their career, disrupting from employment for different lengths of time (Dex, 1987). Appelbaum (1981) has identified two disruption patterns of women’s labor force participation. In the first pattern, married women may withdraw entirely from the workforce some time after marriage to engage in household chores on a full-time basis, but return later to take up full-time or part-time employment. In the second pattern, married women may withdraw from the labor force only briefly, or perhaps not at all, following marriage or the birth of their children. Alternatively, Sorensen (1983) has classified the employment patterns of married women into four categories. The conventional pattern consists of women who leave the labor force upon marriage or the birth of their first child. The interrupted pattern consists of women who leave the labor force upon marriage or the birth of the first child and return to work after their last child is born. The double-track pattern consists ofwomen who return to the labor force anytime before their last child is born. Finally, the unstable pattern consists of women who leave and enter the labor force in an unpredictable manner.

Figure 1 shows the female labor force participation rates of selected countries in recent years. Some of the curves are markedly consistent with Appelbaum (1981) and Sorensen’s (1983) contention that females’ career patterns are closely linked to marriage and child-bearing activities, particularly in Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia. Figure 1 shows that females in Singapore participate actively in the workforce actively in their early ages and their participation rates reach a high of about 80% in the 20-24 and 25-29 age groups. However, they tend to withdraw from the workforce after they enter their 30’s and do not appear to return in subsequent years. In contrast, females in Japan see an M-shape participation curve, which indicates that females tend to withdraw from the workforce in their late 20’s and early 30’s and return to work in subsequent years. Countries such as Germany, Denmark, and the United States do not show the M-shape curve for female labor force participation, and their female labor force participation rates are higher than the other countries across the 25-50 age groups. Compared with Malaysia, Singapore has higher female labor force participation rates in most of the age groups, but the situation is reversed for females aged 60 and over. These statistics appear to suggest that females in Singapore tend to be less economically active compared with advanced countries, especially after they have entered marriage and child-bearing ages.

Given the tendency for women to disrupt from and enter the workforce at various points of their careers, an interesting question facing researchers of female employment is: What are the factors that may affect females’ labor market entry or re-entry decisions? In the last three decades, the Singapore economy has grown by an average of 9% per annum in real terms. This has resulted in a low unemployment rate of 2% and the presence of about 600,000 working foreigners in Singapore. Yet, an additional supply of over 440,000 female workers would be available for employment if females are as economically active as their male counterparts. (There are about 1.8 million people in the Singapore labor force and the labor force participation rate is 50.0% for females and 78.4% for males). As labor shortage has been a restraining force on Singapore’s economic development in the past years, correcting the observed pattern of female labor force participation may be an effective solution for policy makers to sustain the economic growth in Singapore. Since females tend to drop out of the labor force after they have entered marriage and child-bearing ages, it may be fruitful for policy makers to have a more in-depth understanding of the forces that may lead home-based women to enter or re-enter the workforce. The present study was conceptualized with these considerations in mind. We attempted to study the relative tenability of three competing explanations for home-based women’s intentions to enter the workforce. These three explanations were the sex-role perspective (i.e., felt need to discharge family responsibilities), the utility perspective (i.e., economic gains from employment), and the career-efficacy perspective (belief in one’s own capability to work effectively).

Figure 1
Female Labor Force Participation Rates of Selected Countries
Female Labor Force Participation Rates of Selected Countries

Literature Review and Hypotheses

Research has shown that home-based women’s decision to enter or re-enter the workforce may be systematically related to various variables. Appelbaum (1981), for example, shows that age may affect the kind of job home-based women are able to secure upon entering the workforce: Older entrants may get less prestigious jobs than the younger counterparts. This may be due to the limited range of jobs that are available to older women, or because employers discriminate against them. Alternatively, older women entrants may be less adequately trained or possess skills that are obsolete. They may be less productive, less versatile, and less trainable. Hence, additional training costs and reduced productivity associated with old age may make it more difficult for older women to enter the workforce. In all, the above observations suggest that older home-based women may be less likely to intend to enter the workforce because they are less able to work or find it more difficult in securing employment.

Research shows that a significant relationship may exist between educational level and the prestige of the job a home-based woman can secure upon entering the workforce (Appelbaum, 1981). Better educated women are better able to secure desirable jobs than the less educated counterparts because of their qualifications. On the other hand, Jonung and Thordarsson (1980) have found that home-based women who opt to enter the workforce tend to be better educated than those who opt to stay at home. These research suggest that better educated women may be more likely to intend to enter the workforce because they are better able to secure employment and to fulfill work requirements. Further, Ferber (1982) argues that better educated women may be less traditional in their perspective about women’s role. Rindfuss, Bumpass, and John (1980) also argue that education may be a major factor contributing to women’s changing attitude towards their role in the family. These researchers contend that education may cause women to subscribe to values and aspirations and possess skills that are in favor of gainful employment. In all, hence, better educated home-based women may be more likely to intend to enter the workforce because they believe that they are more capable to fulfill work requirements.

Appelbaum (1981) argues that previous work experience may affect home-based women’s inclination to enter the labor market. Women job applicants with limited work experience tend to be restricted in industries and occupations that require fewer general and job-specific skills and pay less. The lack of prior work experiences, skills training, or relevant skills may make it difficult for inexperienced women to find a job in general. Further, lack of work experience may lead to lower confidence to work well (Bird & Skinner, 1990) and over-estimation of training needs (Healy & Kraithman, 1981). Hence, home-based women with fewer prior work experiences may be less likely to intend to enter the workforce because they believe that they are less efficacious in fulfilling work requirements.

Several researchers have argued that home-based women’s inclination to enter the workforce may be linked to the number of children the women have (e.g., Aviolo & Kaplan, 1992). Shaw (1983) has argued that number of children may be negatively related to women’s decisions to enter the workforce because having more children would mean a heavier domestic workload at home. However, number of children may also bear a positive relationship with women’s labor market entry because having more children would mean a greater need for more income to meet the children’s needs. These contrasting arguments suggest that home-based women with more children may be more inclined to enter the workforce because they see a greater economic need to work, or less inclined to enter the workforce because they see a greater need to stay at home to personally take care of their children. Extending these arguments to include the presence of aged dependents at home, we should expect to see that home-based women with aged dependents at home may be less likely to enter the workforce as they may face a greater need to stay at home. The presence of aged dependents, however, may not cause home-based women to see a greater economic need to work because aged dependents may not be dependent financially. First, aged dependents may be pensioners and/or have accumulated retirement savings in their working years. All wage earners in Singapore have been covered by the Central Provident Fund scheme, a save-as-you-earn retirement plan, since 1955. Second, it is common for aged parents to help their working children or children-in-law look after their young ones to help the family save on childcare expenses in Singapore. The presence of aged parents at home may thus encourage home-based women to go out to work.

Research shows that women with children below the age of three tend to be less likely to enter the labor force (Hock, Morgan, & Hock, 1985), and that motherhood tends to prevail over career among women with younger children (Paloma, 1972). Aviolo and Kaplan (1992) also argue that married women’s employment may be a function of the age of the youngest child. Other research shows that women are most likely to enter the workforce when their youngest children are of grade-school or high-school ages (Shaw, 1983; Yohalem, 1980). One explanation for the change in home-based women’s employment inclination in tandem with the age of the youngest child is that women may become less satisfied with their domestic role once their children leave the home to enter educational institutions (Lemmer, 1991). Employment becomes an attractive alternative from which women can regain the self-esteem they lose as a result of their children’s leaving for school. Hence, we should see that home-based women with younger children are less likely to enter the workforce because they see a greater need to stay at home.

Research has found that women in households with a higher income are less likely to be in the workforce (Pfeffer & Ross 1982; Wake 1980). Shaw (1983) shows that home-based women’s labor force entry decisions tend to be negatively related to their family’s income. One explanation for this relationship is that a higher family income would mean a lower need for more income and hence, a lower need for the woman to go out to work. Likewise, Healy and Kraithman (1981) have found that home-based women tend to return to work to help meet the family’s financial needs. Hence, women with a higher household income should be less likely to intend to enter the workforce because they have less economic need to do so. In summary, the above review suggests that the following hypotheses should hold true among home-based women.

Hypothesis 1a: A home-based woman’s inclination to enter the workforce is negatively related to her perceived need to stay at home.

Hypothesis 1b: A home-based woman’s inclination to enter the workforce is positively related to her perceived economic need to work.

Hypothesis 1c: A home-based woman’s indination to enter the workforce is positively related to her perceived capability to work.

It would also be interesting and useful to ascertain the factors that are contributory to home-based women’s perceived need to stay at home, perceived economic need to work, and perceived capability to work, especially if these explanations, as presented in the three hypotheses above, are supported empirically. Hence, we also expect the following hypotheses to hold true based on the literature review.

Hypothesis 2a: A home-based woman’s perceived need to stay at home is positively related to the number of children she has and the presence of aged dependents at home, and negatively to the age of her youngest child.

Hypothesis 2b: A home-based woman’s perceived economic need to work is positively related to the number of children she has and negatively to her family income.

Hypothesis 2c: A home-based woman’s perceived capability to work is positively related to her length of previous work experience and educational level, and negatively to her age.

Method

Data Sources

Data for the present study were obtained from a field survey conducted in early 1996, in Singapore. Two pilot tests were conducted to ascertain the accuracy and integrity of the questionnaire. First, a group of 6 home-based women were invited to provide comments on the questionnaire regarding the clarity and purposes of individual questionnaire items. This was followed by another pilot test in which we asked 8 home-based women to provide feedback on the content validity of the questionnaire items.

We asked university students, friends, neighbors, relatives, and people they knew to help us distribute the questionnaires. We also distributed the questionnaires directly to home-based women through door-to-door canvassing. We required that only home-based women take part in the survey and asked all respondents to call the researchers directly should they encounter problems when filling out the questionnaires. A total of 300 questionnaires were distributed and 198 questionnaires were completed and returned, yielding a completion rate of 66%. Reflecting Chinese as the major race in Singapore, 88.4% of the respondents were of Chinese origin, 9.6% Malay, and the rest Indian and other races. When necessary, we helped the respondents fill out the questionnaire through personal interviews. The questionnaire was presented in the two major languages in Singapore, i.e., English and Chinese.

Dependent Variables

Four dependent varlables were used in the present study and were measured on the 5-point Likert-type scale. Inclination to enter the workforce refers to the extent to which a home-based woman is bent towards working outside the home in the immediate future. This dependent variable was measured with 6 items, including “How frequently have you been thinking of going out to work?”, “How eager are you in getting a job outside home?”, “How likely is it for you to go out to work?”, “How frequently did you ask someone about job opportunities during the past 3 months?”, “If you are offered a job today, how willing are you to find out more about the nature of the job?”, and “When would you consider going out to work?” (reverse-scored) (= .87). We took the average score as the composite measure for this variable.

We developed multiple items to measure perceived need to stay at home, perceived economic need to work, and perceived capability to work. Some of the items were designed to be reversed-score. Perceived need to stay at home refers to the extent to which a home-based woman see that there is a need for her to continue to stay at home to fulfill household responsibilities. This variable comprised 8 items, including “I have to stay at home to take care of my family members”, “My family members need me to be at home most of the time”, “Whenever I go out for the whole day without my family members, I will get very worried”, “There is no need for me to be at home most of the time” (reverse-scored), “All my family members can take care of themselves” (reverse-scored), “It does not make a difference to my family members if I am not at home” (reverse-scored), “It is important for me to spend most of my time with my family”, “I feel that a married woman should place her family above anything else” (= .83). We took the average score as the composite measure for this variable.

Perceived capability to work refers to the extent to which a home-basedwoman sees that she is able to successfully take up employment outside the home. This variable comprised 6 items, including “I am not confident of working if I have to go out to work” (reverse-scored), “If I have to go out to work, I will have problems learning the skills required for work” (reverse-scored), “I am not sure if I have the capability to go out to work” (reverse-scored), “If I have to go out to work, I am sure I will be able to perform well on the job”, “I have the requirements to go out to work”, and “If I have to work, I am confident of picking up the skills necessary for work” (=.85). We took the average score as the composite measure for this variable.

Perceived economic need to work refers to the extent to which a home-based woman sees that there is a need for her to take up gainful employment outside the home to improve or alleviate the financial situations facing her family. This variable comprised 4 items, including “It is not necessary to increase my family’s present income” (reverse-scored), “At present, my family can still cope with the rising cost of living” (reverse-scored), “At present, my family income is more than sufficient to meet my family expenses” (reverse-scored), and “My family’s financial situation is not very good” (= .87). We took the average score as the composite measure for this variable.

Independent Variables

Age was measured with an ordinal scale, comprising “Less than 20 years”, “20-29”, “30-39”, “40-49”, “50-59”, and “60 or above”. (The retirement age in Singapore is 60 years old). Educational level was measured with an ordinal scale, comprising “No Formal Education”, “Completed Primary Education”, “Complete Secondary School”, “Completed Pre-University Education”, and “Completed Tertiary Education”. Total monthly family income was measured with an ordinal scale, comprising “Less than $1,500”, “$1,500 - $2,999”, “$3,000 - $4,499”, “$4,500 - $5,999”, “$6,000 - $7,499”, and “$7,500 or above”. Number of children was measured by the number of children the respondent had. Age of the youngest child was measured in years. Presence of aged dependents was measured with a dichotomous variable, with yes=1 and no=0. Length of previous work experience was measured with an ordinal scale, comprising “Less than 1 year”, “1 - 5 years”, “6 - 10 years”, “11 - 15 years”, and “16 years or above”.

Control Variables

We controlled for two additional variables that might have an impact on the 5 dependent variables. Home-based women who were working part-time might have less need to go out of the home to work since they were already economically active even when they were at home. Conversely, women doing some kind of part-time work at home might be more likely to enter the workforce as they might be more confident in fulfilling job requirements, have more contacts with full-time job opportunities, and find fewer difficulties in adjusting to going out to work. The work status of the home-based respondents was thus controlled for. Another control variable was length of time the respondent had been home-based. The longer the respondent had been at home, the less likely she might return to work as she was more detached from the workplace or had become more accustomed to staying at home. The first control variable (work status at home) was a dichotomous variable, with working part-time=1 and not working part-time=0. The second control variable (length of time the respondent has been home-based) was measured on an ordinal scale, comprising “Less than 1 year”, “1 - 5 years”, “6 - 10 years”, “11 - 15 years”, and “16 years or above”.

Respondents’ Profile

The profile of the respondents is displayed in Table 1. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents were between 30 and 49 years old and more than half had Secondary 4 or higher education. These observations are consistent with the above observations that females tend to join the workforce after they have entered their 20’s and withdraw from the workforce after they have entered their 30’s. All respondents were married with at least one dependent child at home. Twenty-eight respondents (14.1%) did not have any prior work experience and 51 of them (25.8%) were doing part-time work at home. Twenty-five respondents (12.6%) had aged dependents at home. About 59% of them had been home-based for less than 16 years.

Table 1
Profile of Respondents
n %
Work Status
Doing part-time work 51 25.8
Not doing part-time work 147 74.2
Total 198 100.0
Age
Under 20 0 0.0
20 - 29 7 3.5
30 - 39 72 36.4
40 - 49 82 41.4
50 - 59 32 16.2
60 or above 5 2.5
Total 198 100.0
Educational Attainment
No Formal Education 23 11.6
Completed Primary 72 36.4
Completed Secondary 82 41.4
Completed Pre-University 18 9.1
Completed Tertiary 3 1.5
Total 198 100.0
Years being home-based
Under 1 year 13 6.6
1 - 5 years 27 13.6
6 - 10 years 53 26.8
11 - 15 years 24 12.1
16 years and above 81 40.9
Total 198 100.0

Results

Table 2 displays the means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations of all variables used in the present study. About half of the zero-order correlations were significant at the .05 confidence level. Educational level, length of work experience, perceived economic need to work, and perceived capability to work were positively correlated with inclination to enter the workforce. Length of being home-based and perceived need to stay at home was negatively correlated with inclination to enter the workforce. These statistics suggested that all three explanations for women’s inclination to enter the workforce might be supportable.

Older home-based women tended to be less educated, have older children, have been home-based for a longer period of time, and have less perceived need to stay at home. Better educated home-based women tended to have higher family income, fewer and younger children, longer previous work experience, less perceived economic need to work, and greater perceived capability to work. Those with higher family income tended to have less perceived economic need to work. Overall, the correlations did not suggest anomalies in the data set.

Table 2
Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations of All Variables
Variables Mean S.D. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1. Inclination to enter the workforce
(1=low; 5=high)
2.76 .94
2. Age
(1=below 20 years; 6=60 years or older)
3.78 .85 -.04
3. Educational Level
(1=no formal education; 5=tertiary)
2.53 .87 .21 -.29
4. Family income
(monthly; 1<=$1,500; 6=$7,500 or more)
2.40 1.15 -.12 .06 .19
5. Number of children 2.53 .95 -.09 .25 -.23 -.08
6. Presence of aged dependents
(0=no; 1=yes)
.13 .33 .08 .01 .03 .00 .05
7. Age of youngest child
(years)
11.73 7.36 -.03 .76 -.24 .15 .17 .02
8. Length of work experience
(in years; 1<=1; 5=16 or more)
2.49 1.52 .21 -.08 .29 -.03 -.19 -.01 -.22
9. Need to stay at home
(1=low; 5=high)
3.57 .75 -.37 -.16 .03 -.02 .11 .03 -.31 .04
10. Economic need to work
(1=low; 5=high)
2.79 .84 .24 -.04 -.19 -.36 .11 .09 -.08 .04 -.10
11. Capability to work
(1=low; 5=high)
3.39 .76 .25 -.11 .23 -.05 -.17 -.06 -.08 .43 -.10 -.00
12. Doing part-time work
(0=no; 1=yes)
.26 .44 .10 .06 -.14 -.10 .20 .12 .11 -.14 -.14 .24 .03
13. Length of being home-based
(in years; 1<=1; 5=at least 16)
3.67 1.31 -.16 .44 -.19 .13 .32 .05 .58 -.47 -.13 -.11 -.25 .17

Note: Bolded correlations are significant at the .05 level

Table 3 contains the test results for Hypotheses 1a through 1c. Model 1 was a baseline model against which the incremental R2 of perceived need to stay at home, perceived economic need to work, and perceived capability to work in Model 2 were assessed. As a group, these three factors accounted for an incremental 16% of the variance in labor market entry inclination among the women surveyed (F = 11.48, p < .0001). Looking at the individual coefficients, we found that perceived need to stay at home was the most prominent factor explaining the home-based women’s inclination to work outside the home, followed by perceived economic need to work. Perceived capability to work, however, was not significant. The sex-role explanation (Hypothesis 1a) and to a lesser extent, the utility explanation (Hypothesis 1b) were thus supported. The career-efficacy explanation (Hypothesis 1c), however, was not supported.

Table 3
Results of Regressing Labor Market Entry Inclination (Unstandardized)
Variable Model 1 Model 2
Doing part-time work .27 .06
Length of being home-based -.11 -.07
Age -.05 .03
Educational level .24** .27**
Family income -.09 -.03
Number of children -.03 .04
Presence of aged dependents .24 .23
Age of the youngest child .02 -.00
Length of work experience .08 .04
Need to stay at home -.44****
Economic need to work .22*
Capability to work .11
Intercept 2.44**** 2.62**
R2 .13 .29
Model F 2.90** 5.43****
ΔR2 .16
F of ΔR2 11.48****
Number of parameters 3

Note: *p<.05 **p<.01 ***p<.001 ****p<.0001

Table 4 displays the test results for Hypotheses 2a through 2c. Looking at the unstandardized coefficients alone, we found that age of the youngest child and number of children were negatively and positively related to perceived need to stay at home, respectively, supporting Hypothesis 2a. The presence of aged dependents at home, however, did not increase home-based women’s perceived need to stay at home. Supporting Hypothesis 2b, family income was significantly and negatively related to perceived economic need to work, However, Hypothesis 2b was not supported with respect to the effects of number of children on perceived economic need to work. Supporting Hypothesis 2c, length of prior work experience and educational level were significantly and positively related to perceived capability to work. Age of the respondent, however, did not have significant impact on perceived capability to work. Overall, these results suggested partial support for Hypotheses 2a, 2b, and 2c.

Table 4
Results of Hierarchical Regressions for Perceived Need to Stay at Home, Perceived Economic Need to Work, and Perceived Capability to Work
Variable Need to stay at home Economic need to work Capability to work
Step 1:
R2 of the Baseline Model1 .04 .17 .10
Step 2 (b):
Age of the youngest child -.05***
Presence of aged dependents .09
Number of children .14* .03
Family income -.18***
Age -.12
Educational level .15*
Length of work experience .21****
Overall Model R2 .15 .23 .28
Model F 3.33*** 5.49**** 7.06****
ΔR2 .11 .06 .18
F for ΔR2 7.08*** 5.79** 13.44****
Number of parameters for ΔR2 3 2 3

1 Contains work status at home, length of being home-based, and all other demographic variables treated as control variables.

*p<.05 **p<.01 ***p<.001 ****p<.0001

Conclusion

To summarize, the statistical tests for the hypotheses yielded significant effects in the predicted directions, providing support for the relevance of perceived need to stay at home (the sex-role explanation) and economic need to work (the utility explanation) in home-based women’s inclination to enter the workforce. The empirical results did not provide support for the career-efficacy explanation. Age of the youngest child and number of children had negative and positive impact on perceived need to stay home, respectively. Family income bore a negative relationship with perceived economic need to work, as expected. Educational level and length of previous work experience were positively related to perceived capability to work.

The lack of linkage between presence of aged dependents and perceived need to stay at home suggests that aged dependents and young dependents may be treated differently by home-based women. One possible explanation for the difference is that aged dependents may not enjoy the maternal attachment young dependents enjoy from their mothers. Another is that aged dependents may be expected to be or actually are more independent than young dependents, and therefore do not warrant or attract as much personal commitment of time from home-based women.

Number of children did not have a significant impact on perceived economic need to work, when such factors as work status at home, educational level, and other variables were controlled for. One possible explanation is that, as indicated in Table 2, there was significant, positive correlation between number of children and work status at home. Home-based women with more children were more likely to do part-time work at home and they might already enjoy additional income. Therefore, these women might face less economic pressure to go out to work. The lack of linkage between number of children and perceived economic to work may therefore be a result of personal choice over the form of employment.

Another observation worthy of elaboration is the lack of association between age and perceived capability to work. The home-based women surveyed appeared to be objective in that they viewed their perceived capability to work in tandem with their previous work experience and educational level. However, they did not appear to judge their perceived efficacy to work as a function of their age. Since we did not specify the kinds of work respondents should refer to in the questionnaire, respondents of different ages might refer to different kinds of work when they indicated their responses. The null finding thus should not be taken to imply the women were equally capable of or willing to take up any job regardless of age.

Home-based women were primarily concerned with caring for children, especially when the children were younger. Their perception of a greater need to stay at home in tandem with more and younger children is consistent with many researchers’ assertion that women may have to grapple with childbearing and child-rearing responsibilities vis-à-vis their careers. For policy makers looking for ways to retain the workforce, this finding implies that long-term population policies intended to enlaige the labor force may have to account for the short-term impact of greater perceived need to stay at home among mothers to take care of young children. Another implication is that policy makers should focus on addressing home-based women’s need to care for their children if they want to encourage more home-based women to enter the workforce.

The finding that home-based women’s perceived economic need to work is negatively related to family income, is consistent with women’s primary concern with domestic responsibilities and the secondary economic role they play in the family. It indicates that the traditional mind-set of depending on the husband to bring back the bacon is still much alive among home-based women in Singapore. This finding may not be generalizable to other women as the present study included only home-based women.

Home-based women who had worked longer previously were more confident of going out to work. Their prior work experiences might enable them to be in a better position to anticipate and plan to deal with workplace and work problems that may arise should they enter the workplace. An implication of this finding for policy makers trying to encourage more home-based women to enter the workforce is that they may have a better chance of success if they target their efforts at home-based women who had worked previously. It may take less persuasion to get home-based women who have worked previously to regain their confidence and join the workforce, compared with the less experienced or inexperienced counterparts. Given the fact that about 80% of the females in the 20-24 and 25-29 age groups are in the labor force, policy makers will have a large target audience in the future should some of the working females withdraw from the labor market when they are older. This suggestion, however, may carry less weight than we would desire because the statistical tests for Hypotheses 1a throuh 1c have shown that home-based women are primarily concerned with their family role and economic need to work, rather than their capability to work, in their contemplation to enter the workforce.

Finally, educational level was not only positively and significantly related to inclination to enter the workforce, it was also instrumental to home-based women’s perceived capability to work. Consistent with Ferber (1982) and Rindfuss, Bumpass, and John (1980), education appears to increase the tendency of women to venture outside the home. Better educated women are also more confident that they will be able to fulfill job requirements. These results suggest that education should be one of the major contingencies to be considered in future studies of female employment behavior. Policy makers should pay special attention to better educated home-based women in their efforts to woo home-based women to enter the workforce. This, of course, should not be done at the expense of the less educated counterparts.

Several limitations facing the present study should be noted. First the present study relied on self-report measures, rather than on objective measures and actual decisions or acts of entering the workforce. However, to the extent that self-reported measures form the major bases for decision making and that inclination is a good predictor of actual action, the present study does generate some useful insights into the dynamics involved in home-based women’s labor market entry. Intention to work may be superior to actual labor market entry as the dependent variable in the present research because the latter tends to be distorted by a large number of factors, such as actual efforts made to secure a job, pay expectations, local labor market conditions, specific working conditions in different organizations, and others. Nonetheless, future research should look into alternative methods of operationallzation and measurement of labor market entry among women. Second, we drew the samples from a single research context and did a cross-section analysis. The findings might be different if the research had been conducted in other contexts, such as Japan, the United States, and other countries, due to cultural, social, economic, and other differences. The results might also be different had the temporal aspects of individual decision malking been considered. Hence, the results obtained above should not be over-generalized. More research should be conducted to examine the boundary conditions posed by the research context and research design.

References

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