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Men's Working Lives
Women at Work: Values
In 1900, only 6 percent of married women worked outside the home, usually when their blue-collar husbands were unemployed. Among wives with children at home, very few worked at all. Almost half of single women held jobs, but they usually stopped working when they married or, at the latest, when they got pregnant, and most never worked for pay again. About a third of widowed and divorced women worked, typically out of economic necessity. Never-married women with children were virtually unknown.
The labor force participation rate of single women peaked in World War II and then declined as large numbers of them pursued higher education. The sharp jump in their work force participation in 1967 is a statistical artifact reflecting an increase in the defined minimum age of the labor force from fourteen to sixteen years old. In the early 1970s, the labor force participation rate of single women began a steady rise to nearly 70 percent by 1998 (see chart at upper left).
The labor force participation rate of widowed, divorced, and separated women remained fairly stable until 1940, when it began a gradual rise to nearly 50 percent (see chart at upper right). These women were considerably older on average than those in the other three groups, and many had income sources such as survivorsí benefits or alimony payments.
The steady movement of married women into the labor force began around 1920, spiked during World War II, and never abated (see chart at lower left). In 1998, more than 60 percent of all married women living with their husbands worked for pay outside the family home. Their labor force participation was only slightly lower than that of single women and considerably higher than that of widowed, divorced, and separated women.
Data on the labor force participation of married women with children under age six go back only to 1950, but the rise since then has been sharp (see chart at lower right). Their labor force participation rate increased more than fivefold, from 12 percent in 1950 to 64 percent in 1998, helping to create an entire industry of paid day care in the process.
HS series D 59, D 60, and D 62; SA 1984, table 683; and SA 1999, tables 658 and 659.