Women and work: What's behind the recent drop in the women's labor-force participation rate? The fact that after years of growth, there...

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Women and work: What’s behind the recent drop in the women’s labor-force participation rate?

The fact that after years of growth, there now is a decline is a puzzlement to many observers.

But Anthony Chan, senior economist at JPMorgan Asset Management, who has researched the subject, has some ideas about the trend.

According to Chan, who is based in Columbus, Ohio, it could be all about money.

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“One potential explanation could be that as incomes for both men and women go up proportionally, a two-income household can afford to have one parent reduce their labor-force participation in order to spend more time with their children — a role that has been traditionally occupied by a higher percentage of women,” the economist said.

Chan adds that “a rise in absolute wages for women correlates with a decline in female labor-force participation rates — but the opposite is true for men.”

That’s one theory. But Martha Burk, of Master’s golf tournament fame and chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, has a different take on the current trend.

Burk, author of “Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It” (Scribner, $23), was asked by The New York Times if the reduction in the number of women entering the work force is due to the fact that “they are questioning the rewards of a career.”

“I don’t think they’re questioning it,” Burk said. “I think some women are giving up on it.”

And here’s my theory: So-called “women’s” jobs were hit hard by the recession.

Positive flextime: Peter Handal, chief executive officer of Dale Carnegie Training, a global management-training company based in New York, believes in flexible hours.

“For many, flextime can make you more productive and help generate a more positive attitude toward work,” said Handal, whose firm specializes in corporate management and workplace issues.

In order to negotiate a flexible schedule, the executive suggests you evaluate your most productive period at work, identify the skill that is most compromised when you’re interrupted at the office, determine how your work can improve with flextime — and add your commute time to the mix.

Having it all, or not: “When you were younger, did you dream that you could ‘have it all’ — a hot career, a busy social life, a loving family and plenty of time left over to pursue hobbies, recreation, relaxation and community outreach? Now, how does that compare with your life today? We thought so.”

These questions about a balanced life — and insightful solutions — are posed in a new book by Sheryl Huggins and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack. They’re editors of the “Nia Guide for Black Women: Balancing Work and Life” (Agate, $12.95). “Nia” means “purpose” in Swahili.

McKissack is founder and CEO of Nia Enterprises and NiaOnline.com, a Chicago-based research and marketing service focusing on black women and their families. Huggins is the online editor in chief.

“If you’re like most of us, you’re simply struggling to keep any kind of career going,” the authors observe.

“Frequently our happiness and well-being get lost in the shuffle. As black women, we have the added burdens of having to climb racial barriers, break glass ceilings and live up to stereotypes such as the ‘Strong Black Woman.’

“Truth is, we’re far more likely to ‘have had it’ than to ‘have it all.’ “

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at ckleiman@tribune.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.