Changing Course THE 1960s AND 197OS
The prosperity of the 1950s gave way to even greater economic growth that drew growing numbers of women into the labor force. The feminization of work progressed as labor demand mounted and both low-status and high- status service occupations grew. The 1960s and 1970s brought a critical and enduring shift in the lives of women and their families as the wage-earning mother became the rule rather than the exception in the United States. What had begun as a part- time or "empty-nest" commitment to the labor market for a minority of mothers in the 1950s had become a full-time experience for most mothers by the end of the 1970s. Legal tools for achieving desegregation in employment emerged in the 1960s, but the new body of law had little effect on most women's earnings or their jobs until the 1970s. During the sixties the continuing structural transformation of the economy and the demand for female labor had broader impact than civil rights law on women's everyday lives. In the 1970s the law and public policy opened unprecedented professional opportunities for women, but not all women climbed the income ladder. Through these decades of economic expansion, the gender gap in wages persisted and profound changes in family structure increased the economic responsibilities of most women.
During the 1960s the number of women in the workforce grew from twenty-three million to well over thirty-one million, and female labor force participation increased from 37.7 percent to 43.3 percent. Women had entered the labor force in the 1950s partly because the wage gap had narrowed significantly since the 1930s, but women of the 1960s did not make substantial progress in earnings relative to