Throughout the twentieth century women have labored maintain themselves and their families. Over time the economy developed in ways that made employment increasingly attractive to women. Job opportunities moved away from agriculture, beyond the narrow confines of domestic work and factory labor, and into commerce, offices, the professions, and nonprofit institutions. The feminization of work increased women's commitments to the economic support of others. As daughters, as sisters, and as mothers, women saw their economic responsibilities multiply over time. Partly because of the gender gap in wages, women's financial burdens and the difficulties of balancing their domestic and work obligations mounted faster than their incomes advanced. The reality of rising costs and responsibilities encouraged women to limit fertility and postpone marriage.
The need or desire to earn wages influenced all aspects of some women's lives, from schooling and migration to marriage and childbearing. Although most female workers were native-born Americans, the strength of the labor market pulled millions of women as well as men to the shores of the United States. Throughout the century women immigrated to the United States with specific labor markets as their destinations, and once here, most twentieth-century immigrants found work in fields that required little training. For women these areas were principally domestic service and light manufacturing. Moving independently or as members of family groups, women responded not only to the growth of specific regional labor markets, but also to large-scale changes in the U.S. occupational structure. Wives who had not formerly worked for wages accepted homework or wage labor outside the home as new opportunities permitted and family needs demanded. Native-born women also sought to improve their fortunes through migration,