FMC Home Link PBS Program LinkFMC Book LinkViewer's Voices LinkInteractivity LinkTeacher's Guide
  Book Intro LinkBook Authors LinkBook Download LinkCredits Link
FMC Logo 1
  < Back to Contents
  Chapter Two:

  Men's Occupations
  Farm Operators
  Employee Fatalities
  Men's Working Lives
  Work Hours
  Daily Housework
  Working Women
  Women at Work: Values
  Women's Occupations
  Minority Professionals
  Labor Unions





Women at Work: Values

chart link spacer



Attitudes toward the employment of married women shifted from strong disapproval to equally strong approval.
In 1936, a Gallup poll asked a national sample, “Should a married woman earn money if she has a husband capable of supporting her?” By overwhelming majorities, both men and women said she should not. In 1972 and later years, the General Social Survey asked an almost identical question: “Do you approve or disapprove of a married woman earning money in business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her?” By overwhelming majorities, both men and women approved. 

Although the questions were the same, the context of the responses changed. In the early part of the century, as the Lynds’ Middletown studies demonstrate, the income of a married man was ordinarily adequate to support his family at the accustomed level of his occupational class. Women, moreover, carried an enormous burden of housework (see page 36). At that time, the employment of women was associated with lower family status. The wives of business and professional men rarely worked outside the home. But the intermittent unemployment of factory workers, even in prosperous times, forced their wives to take jobs outside the home when their husbands were idle. A woman who worked while her husband was employed was often thought to be taking the job of another family’s breadwinner. 

By the end of the century, the situation had changed dramatically. Except for men in the top professions, the income of a married man was ordinarily not adequate to support a family at the usual level of his occupational class. The burden of housework had been substantially reduced. Many women received education appropriate to professional work and expected to work even after they married and had children. The employment of women ceased to be associated with lower family status, and became the modal pattern in middle-income families and wide-spread in upper-income families.

Chapter 2 chart 9

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

For 1936, see August 1936 poll in George H. Gallup, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935–1971 (New York: Random House, 1972). For 1972 and subsequent years, see the Internet archive of the General Social Survey at (accessed August 24, 2000).


<<Previous      Next>>  


PBS Program | Trends of the Century | Viewer's Voices | Interactivity | Teacher's Guide