Men Women and the Family - Women Redefine Their Role
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While the husband's main role had traditionally been that of breadwinner, by the 1960s many women were redefining their own roles as homemakers. Women who had experienced the economic independence of a paying job during World War II, and who had attained personal satisfaction from working, reentered the labor force. The availability of contraceptives enabled many young married women to postpone childbearing. The mothers of baby boomers, most of whom had given birth at a young age, saw the last of their children leave the nest. These mothers were ready to start a new chapter in life, which for many meant finding a career.
Most working women prior to the 1960s held secretarial and sales clerk positions, while nursing and teaching were the two primary career options for those wishing to pursue a professional degree. But their daughters aspired to different careers. Realizing that higher education meant better wages, these young women pursued postsecondary education. In 1960 women earned about one-third of all bachelor's (35.3%) and master's degrees (31.6%). By 1985, women earned fully half of these degrees. The increase in women earning degrees in medicine and law was even more dramatic, doubling from 12.4% in 1975 to 32.8% by 1985. According to the August 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education, in the 2001–02 academic year women earned 57% of bachelor's degrees, 59% of master's degrees, and 46% of doctoral degrees. Forty-four percent of medical degrees and 48% of law degrees were conferred on women.
Into the Labor Force
In 1950 about one in three women participated in the labor force—or, in other words, worked outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2002, three of every five women of working age were in the workforce, an increase from a 33.9% participation rate in 1950 to 59.8% in 1998. The most significant increase was among those women in the twenty-five to thirty-four age range, who more than doubled their participation in the workforce after 1950.
In 2002 women represented 47% of employed persons. The increase in women serving in managerial and professional positions, while partly the result of increased education, was boosted significantly by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forced businesses to recruit and promote qualified women and minorities. In 1983 women accounted for 45.8% of people employed in technical, sales, and administrative support positions and 21.9% of managerial and professional positions. By 2002, 33.7% of managers and professionals were women, while their representation in traditional women's roles as support staff had declined to 38.8%.
While women increased their education and moved into higher-paying careers, their earnings continued to trail those of their male counterparts. In a 2004 report the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the median weekly wage of women working full-time in 2002 was 77.9% of the median weekly earnings of men working full-time. This represented an improvement from 1980, when women earned 64.2% of men's median pay.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between 1975 and 2002 the labor force participation of women with children under age eighteen grew from 47% to 72%. The most significant increase was among women with very young children. In 1976 just 31% of women with children under the age of one were part of the workforce. By 2002 54.6% of working mothers with infants were in the workforce. (See Figure 2.3.) In 2002 34% of women with infants were employed full-time compared to 51% of women without infants. Sixteen percent of both groups
were employed part-time, while mothers with infants had a 5% unemployment rate compared to 4% for women without infants. (See Figure 2.4.)