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

By Julia Kirk Blackwelder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
Families and Working Women, 1900-1995

A s we have seen, the decades of the twentieth century have witnessed the intensifying involvement of women in the U.S. labor force. Pushed by economic necessity and by ambition, pulled by the continuously expanding demand of the evolving U.S. economy, the flow of women into gainful labor, inside the home or out, has swelled through war and peace, prosperity and depression. This feminization of the labor force has shown no signs, even in the late twentieth century, of abating.

In many ways, this greater involvement of women in work stems from the ongoing expansion and transformation of the U.S. economy from its agricultural origins, through industrialization, into its late-twentieth-century service-based, postindustrial configuration. Women's involvement, however, has had distinct dimensions of its own, not all of them congruent with short-term economic conditions, nor neatly dovetailing into standard historical periodicity; nor, most emphatically, does the story of working women in the twentieth century parallel that of working men, with only physiology to distinguish the casts.

Aside from the differing occupational makeup of male and female labor forces, the trend of involvement has run in opposite directions in the twentieth century-- up for women, slowly down for men. Moreover, while one can speak--and historians most often do speak--of men's work as though they engaged in it as free agents, unattached and unanchored, free to follow whim, instinct, opportunity, women's work has almost always had a family context. The late twentieth century has seen the emergence--and a greater public awareness--of many women, some independent, but most of them wives or mothers, pursuing their own careers for their own reasons, reasons often related to but not dictated by family considerations. U.S. society has always had a leavening of such career women, but over-

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