A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women’s Liberation in America
A Mother’s Work
Why We Lost the ERA
The Divorce Revolution
Women and Work: An Annual Review, Volume I
Women in Charge: Dilemmas of Women in Authority
California Federal Savings and Loan v. Guerra
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sears, Roebuck and Co.
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees v. State of Washington
That more American women are now working is hardly news. In 1960, only 35 percent of American women were in the labor force. Today that ratio is 55 percent, which means they hold 44 percent of all available jobs. If these are familiar figures, other statistics startle even the experts. Since 1980, women have taken 80 percent of the new jobs created in the economy. If this pace continues, women will make up most of the work force by the turn of the century.
With more women seeking employment, old debates have been revived and matters once considered settled have become contentious issues. One is whether women who have children should be working at all, and under what conditions. Another concerns the inequities women encounter, and how these may be overcome. A third deals with prospects for advancement, and what women will have to do if they hope to move ahead. But why, we must first ask, have so many women been entering the labor market?
Most women go to work, of course, because they want or need the income. As Table A shows (see page opposite), 45 percent of employed women are single, previously married, or heads of households; virtually all of them work to support themselves.
However, married women account for more than half of the female labor force. Those who do not have children usually take jobs because they want the comforts that come with a two-income household. In the case of married women who have children, the number who work because they need the extra money is difficult to determine. For example, among married couples where the husband makes less than $20,000 a year, two thirds of the wives work, presumably to augment the couple’s income. Even so, a third of those working wives bring in less than $5,000. And with husbands in the $35,000 to $50,000 range, wives who work average $12,500. For some, these may be sufficient supplements. Others might like to make more, but cannot find better paying positions, or must balance work against domestic obligations. As matters now stand, of all the women who take jobs, 52 percent work part time or for only part of the year. Thus when a middle-class mother works to pay her children’s college tuition, the line between choice and necessity becomes blurred. To this may be added the responses to a recent Newsweek survey: three fourths of the women said they would still want to work even if they didn’t need the money. Like men, they enjoy freedom and stimulation outside the home.
And, on the supply side, the opportunities have been there. With the economy’s stress on services and office work, there are more jobs suited to the temperaments and training usually associated with women. At the same time, we now have the presumption that any occupation—firefighters, for example, or lumberjacks—must have a convincing case why women should not be considered …
Sisterhood Is Powerless November 20, 1986