Tracey M. Wilson
In 1977 the average woman could expect to spend 27.6 years of her life in the work force, compared with 38.3 years for men.
Women workers are concentrated in low paying dead end jobs. As a result, the average woman worker earns only about three-fifths of what a man does, even when both work full time year round.
Fully employed women high school graduates (with no college) had less income on the average than fully employed men who had not completed elementary school in 1978. Women with four years of college also had less income than men with only an 8th grade education.
Women were 80 percent of all clerical workers in 1979 but only 6 percent of all craft workers; 62 percent of service workers but only 43 percent of professional and technical workers; and 63 percent of retail sales workers but only 25 percent of non-farm managers and administrators.
U.S. Department of Labor, “20 Facts on Women Workers,” 1980.
Almost all students we teach will work at a paying job at some point in their lives. Half of them, however, are doomed by their sex to low-paying dead end jobs.
How did women inherit this inferior position in the United States work place? Has it always been this way? Has their position improved since the country industrialized at the turn of the century? Do male or female workers have control over the types of jobs they get and the working conditions they find there?
Though most American women have always been relegated to low-level, subservient jobs in and out of the home, many have been able to exercise varying degrees of choice in their work lives. Between 1880 and 1920 the choices available to women expanded due to the change in job definition, technology, the production pressures of World War I, the growing militancy of women workers riding the tide of labor unrest during the war, and the increased acceptance of women in the work force.
The period of 1880 to 1920 is of particular importance in our economic history because the structure of our present economic world developed at that time. Many new jobs were stereotyped by sex, while many job opportunities opened up for small numbers of women in various formerly all-male fields. In studying this material, students will begin to understand the historical limits society has placed on their job choice, end learn that with some individual initiative it is possible to break out of societally determined gender roles which can limit a person’s ability to develop her best capabilities.