The Experience and Meaning of Work in Women's Lives

The Experience and Meaning of Work in Women's Lives

The Experience and Meaning of Work in Women's Lives

The Experience and Meaning of Work in Women's Lives

Synopsis

In the past, social scientists have relied predominantly on traditional models of work to understand women's experiences. These models, however, have been based on men's occupational experiences, which have been assumed to be the same for women. More recently, researchers and theorists from a variety of disciplines have begun to challenge earlier assumptions as inaccurate reflections of the realities for female workers. Newer studies have concentrated on the historical and social reasons for women's employment and career choices, including changes in economy, family, and social conditions.

To provide a deeper understanding of women worker's realities by including the meaning they make of their work experiences, the editors have assembled the research of social scientists from various disciplines whose investigations focused exclusively on this subject. Their qualitative methodology provides a forum for women to voice issues, raise questions, and share self-reflections about their work experiences and the meaning they make of their work in the context of the rest of their lives.

The common themes that are interwoven within the fabric of women's work experience are: the need to expand traditional definitions of what constitutes "work;" the fluid nature of boundaries between personal life and work life; the importance of the relational aspects of their work; the issues related to the uses of power at work; the role of work in the development of women's sense of self and personal identity; and the degree to which women's work experience is colored by discrimination and sexism.

Excerpt

Nia Lane Chester Pine Manor College

Hildreth Y. Grossman Harvard Medical School

Current estimates are that 55% of all woman over the age of 16 are in the labor force, with about 70% at work in the 20-44 age range and 65% in the 45-54 age range (U.S. Department of Labor, 1986, Table A-4). Certainly many millions of woman participate in unpaid work in addition to, or instead of, their paying jobs. the majority of the nonpaying work involves nourishing and maintaining a stable family center for members (their husbands) and future members (their children) of the paid work force. the majority of women function in both capacities.

Due to the rapid expansion of women into all strata of the work force, and in particular in the social sciences, increasing interest and research has been devoted to women's work experiences. It has become clear from these studies that social scientists have relied predominantly on traditional models of work to understand women's experiences. These models, however, have been based on men's occupational experiences, which have been assumed to be the same for women. More recently, researchers and theorists from a variety of disciplines have begun to challenge earlier assumptions as inaccurate reflections of women workers' realities.

A majority of these newer studies have concentrated on the reasons for women's employment and career choices, including changes in economic, family and social conditions (Astin, 1984; Fitzgerald & Crites, 1980; Oppenheimer, 1982; Osipow, 1973, 1975). These studies suggest that women, contrary to traditional mythology, work for much the same reasons that men . . .

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