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Men's Working Lives
Women at Work: Values
The massive entry of women into the paid labor force would have been impossible without a drastic reduction in the time that most women spent on household tasks such as cleaning, cooking, baking, sewing, washing, ironing, and other domestic maintenance activities.
Among the married women interviewed in Middletown (Muncie, Indiana) in 1924, only 22 percent had held a full-time job at any time during the preceding five years. The corresponding figure for 1999 was 83 percent.
The chart, based on the community survey conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd in 1924 and on the replications of that survey by Theodore Caplow and his team in 1977 and 1999, tells the story. In 1924, 87 percent of married women spent four or more hours doing housework each day. By 1977, the comparable figure was 43 percent. By 1999, it had plummeted to 14 percent.
This remarkable reduction was the result of the mechanization and simplification of housework. A variety of innovations—vacuum cleaners, central heating, gas and electric stoves, refrigerators, freezers, microwave ovens, blenders, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and many smaller devices—led to the mechanization of housework (see page 98). Prepackaged meals, wash-and-wear fabrics, supermarkets, and fast-food restaurants greatly simplified household tasks.
If anything, the figures understate the reduction of housework that actually occurred. In 1890, about two-thirds of business-class wives in Middletown had full-time servants. By 1924, only one-third of business-class wives in the Middletown sample had full-time servants. In 1999, only one of the 397 women in the community survey had full-time help at home.
Middletown I, III, and IV, Community Survey, items 23, 24, 31, and 33. For married women, see Middletown I, pages 169–170.