A life table analysis of the labor force participation of U.S. nurses, 1949 to 1980


  • Delores C. Schoen,

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    • Dr. Delores C. Schoen is director of NSF Chautauqua Field Center and instructor of nursing, Life Science Division, Parkland College, Champaign, IL.

  • Robert Schoen

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    • Dr. Robert Schoen, University of Illinois, Department of Sociology, 702 S. Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801
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    • Dr. Robert Schoen is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana.


Data from seven inventories of registered nurses by the American Nurses' Association and the 1980 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses are analyzed in a life table format to examine changes in nurse labor force participation. The results show a substantial increase in the labor force participation of nurses, as a nurse aged 20 could be expected to spend 28.5 years in the labor force in 1949 and 34.1 years in the labor force in 1980. Much of that rise seems attributable to increasing full-time employment. There is a positive relationship between participation in the nursing labor force and a nurse's highest level of educational preparation, but that relationship is not a simple one. Nurses with a master's or higher degree are very active in the labor force, while diploma nurses are much less likely to be employed. At the same time, nurses with baccalaureate degrees have relatively low rates of labor force participation, but associate degree nurses have rates rivaling the most highly educated.