Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, says the declining participation rate is driven by three main factors: A rapid expansion of tertiary education that began in the late 1990s which saw college enrollments rise seven-fold, the earlier withdrawal from the labor market for women, and a general reduction in participation for other age groups. Labor market mobility has also substantially increased, which may result in temporary joblessness when people are in transition and that may not be picked up by censuses and surveys, Wang said.

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