Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present

By Mimi Abramovitz | Go to book overview

4
"A Woman's Place Is In The Home"

The Rise of the Industrial Family Ethic

The rise of industrial capitalism in the early eighteenth century and the concurrent separation of household and market production restructured both the labor market and the family system. The requirements of the new market economy gradually undermined the ability of the colonial family ethic to regulate the work and family life of white women. Indeed, the changing economy created a new gender division of labor, which assigned men to the market and women to the home. Women's new "place" in the home evolved as the changing economy moved economic production from the household to the market, a trend which developed first and considerably more rapidly in major urban areas. As women's domestic labor shifted away from production (the transformation of raw or unfinished material into finished goods) to reproduction and maintenance (the bearing of children, caring for family members, and managing household affairs), it significantly increased the time women spent on household and caretaking activities. 1 The symmetry of this exchange was imperfect, however, because both poverty and the needs of the new market economy required women's labor outside the home. Moreover, in rural areas, life remained virtually unchanged. Eventually, the changing role of white women and the conflicting demand for their reproductive and productive labor rendered the colonial family ethic obsolete. In the early nineteenth century

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