Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995

By Julia Kirk Blackwelder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Aftershock THE 1950s

The decade of the 1950s reaffirmed the nation's faith in capitalism as prosperity reigned, living standards soared, and American women streamed into the labor force. Government spending for the Korean War and the Cold War stimulated expansion, and growing families fueled the consumer market. By 1950 the Gross National Product (GNP) exceeded wartime production and, despite brief downturns, the GNP doubled during the decade of the fifties. The 1950s made clear that the labor force changes that had accompanied World War II had made a long-term rather than temporary impact on women's place in the labor force. Labor demand called women of all ages, regardless of family status, to the ranks of paid workers. Young adult women of the 1950s, women in their twenties and thirties, had grown up amidst depression and war, when wage labor had been the rule rather than the exception for single women. The Depression and World War II had drawn many of their mothers or other female relatives into the labor force. If they remained single or became widowed or divorced, they would have had to work. In light of their own experiences during World War II or the behaviors of wives around them, they could have foreseen paid work as a normal activity for mothers living in stable marriages. Plentiful job opportunities existed in the fifties, but counter pressures discouraged wives' employment.


WORK AND MOTHERHOOD IN THE 1950s

The American family emerged as a centerpiece of Cold War propaganda, an icon of television serials, and the primary target of consumer marketing. Employers increased their efforts to lure mothers into the labor force while psychologists and

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