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Ruth Milkman, “Women’s Work and Economic Crisis: Some Lessons of the Great Depression”

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Women’s Work and Economic Crisis: Some Lessons of the Great Depression”

Ruth Milkman, 1976 [PDF]

I. Introduction

Most people in this society view paid work and
family life as two clearly distinct spheres of activity,
as indeed they have become. In general, men are
associated with work and women with the family.
Though there is considerable overlap in practice –
women frequently work outside the home and men
often play an important role within it – American
culture clearly defines men as the “breadwinners”
and women as the people socially responsible for
managing housework and family life. Women’s
production within the family, because it is not paid
labor, is often not recognized as valuable, but the
work done within both spheres is clearly crucial to
the functioning of the economy. Unpaid houseworkers
produce and socialize children and efficiently
provide many important personal and
social services. Paid workers produce profits and
also some useful commodities.

In the course of capitalist development, women
have come to play an increasingly important role
in the sphere of paid labor, and yet participation in
that sphere continues to be ideologically defined as
“male.” This disparity between the cultural definition
of women and the reality of their material
situation stems from a contradiction basic to the
structure of capitalism. On the one hand, there is
the continuing need for the family, particularly
women’s unpaid labor in it, and, on the other hand,
the tendency for an increasing amount of human
activity to be integrated into the sphere of commodity
production in the course of economic growth.

The family lost its role as the primary unit of
social production with the development of industrial
capitalism, but as an institution it remains
central to that form of economic organization, performing
many vital functions. Women have been
designated as the people responsible for the execution
of these functions in the home. They provide
a wide variety of personal services – preparing
meals, cleaning the home, providing basic health
care, and so forth. This work is necessary to the
maintenance of the working ability, or labor power,
of adult family members, and to the preparation of
a new generation of workers. Women also do most
of the family’s buying, and the institution is the
basic unit of commodity consumption. In addition,
women instill in their children and maintain in
their husbands the individualistic values basic to
the society, and they are responsible for emotionally
and sexually maintaining their husbands.

Family “life” is defined in direct opposition to
work, as the one place where people can escape the
“impersonal forces” of the economy. As wives and
mothers, women are expected to absorb any tension
generated by those forces. Finally, of course, they
bear children, society’s next generation of workers.
It is theoretically conceivable that all of the
family’s functions could be taken over by other institutions,
and that the work involved, with the exception
of childbearing, could be done by persons
of either sex. However, there are a number of good
reasons for preserving the present arrangement
within the context of a capitalist society. First, all of
the work done by women in the home retains a precapitalistic,
wageless form, so that the costs of
maintaining and reproducing its labor power are
borne fully by the working class. Without families,
adult men and women could probably fend for
themselves, but the 24-hour-a-day job of caring for
young children would be very expensive if it were
transformed into wage labor. Moreover, while it
may be profitable for individual capitalists to hire
waged workers to produce the essential personal
services otherwise supplied by women in families as
a “labor of love,” this is not in the interests of the
capitalist class as a whole, for wages must rise to
cover the cost to the worker of such necessities.

Secondly, the small nuclear family is an optimal
unit of consumption, generating much larger
demand for household appliances, televisions, and
so forth, than would obtain if housework and
family activities were socialized. In addition, assigning
women the responsibility for making the
family into a “haven” from the frustrations of the
world of work – at least for men – is tremendously
accomodative to the needs of a society in which
most jobs are inherently unsatisfying.

The family is, for all of these reasons, an important
component of our economic system, and
this is the material basis of the cultural definition
of women as primarily wives and mothers. And yet,
with economic development and growth, increasing
numbers of women have entered the paid labor
force, in a wide range of occupations. This, in
women’s real lives, has meant greater opportunity
to receive pay for their labor, a development which
clearly threatens the culturally prescribed sexual
division of labor assigning them the responsibility
to work without pay to maintain their families.

There is, then, a real contradiction between
the economy’s need for women as unpaid family
workers and its tendency to draw all available labor
power, regardless of sex, into the sphere of production
for profit. This creates a disjuncture between
the ideology about sex roles, which continues to define
women with reference to their family role, and
the material reality of their increasing participation
in the “male” sphere of paid production. As a
result, as Juliet Mitchell has pointed out, women
who work for pay tend nevertheless to view themselves
as wives and mothers, not as “workers.”

Because the economic role of women is obscured
(its cheapness obscures it) women
workers do not have the pre-conditions of class
consciousness. Their exploitation is invisible
behind an ideology that masks the fact that
they work at all – their work appears inessential. 1

Because of this lack of class consciousness,
Mitchell argues, the labor market behavior of
women is easily manipulated with changing economic
conditions. She and other Marxist-feminists
have argued that women function as a “reserve
army” of labor power, to be drawn on in periods
when labor is scarce and expelled in periods of
labor surplus. Ideology, in this view, plays a crucial
role, both perpetuating women’s lack of class consciousness
over the long term and propelling them
in and out of the labor force in response to changing
economic conditions.

Exponents of this “reserve army” theory
agree, and the historical evidence is fairly clear,
that in periods of economic expansion women do
tend to enter the paid workforce. In periods of
contraction, however, the situation of women is
more problematic. On the one hand, as Mitchell
suggests, “in times of economic recession and
forced labour redundancy, women form a pool of
cheap labour.” 2 Since women work for lower
wages than men, one might expect them to be the
last to lose their jobs in a slump. On the other
hand, this would violate the basic cultural prescription
which, as Mitchell so strongly emphasizes,
dictates that “woman’s place” is in the home,
that men are the “breadwinners.” Reasoning from
this basis, Margaret Benston, who also characterizes
women as a “reserve army,” suggests that
women leave the labor market in a period of contraction.

When there is less demand for labor… women
become a surplus labor force – but one for
which their husbands and not society are economically
responsible. The &dquo;cult of the home&dquo;
makes its reappearance during times of labor
surplus and is used to channel women out of
the market economy. This is relatively easy
since the pervading ideology ensures that no
one, man or woman, takes woman’s participation
in the labor force very seriously. 3

This notion has gained wide currency – indeed, it
has risen to the level of dogma – both in the
women’s movement and on the Left.
There are, then, contradictory arguments
about women’s labor force behavior in an economic
contraction. If the Marxist concept of a “reserve
army” of labor power is useful for analyzing the
entrance of women into the paid workforce over the
long term, Marxist-feminist applications of its converse
do not tell us very much about their economic
roles in a period of crisis. Those theoretical applications,
moreover, are somewhat mechanistic, and
are insufficiently grounded in knowledge of history.

This paper is an effort to remedy that through an
analysis of the experience of women, both in the
labor market and as unpaid family workers, during
the Great Depression, the most severe economic
crisis of the twentieth century. The experience of
women during the period immediately following
World War II will be considered also, as a
contrasting case in which the “reserve army”
theory is of some use. Finally, I will consider the
relationship of women to the current economic

The first part of the paper consists of a discussion
of the changes in women’s paid employment
patterns which resulted from the 1929 crash, in
which I hope to demonstrate that the sex-typing of
occupations created an inflexibility in the structure
of the labor market which prevented the expulsion
of women from it in the manner Benston
suggests. It was not because of the fact that
women’s labor power is cheaper than men’s, but
rather because women’s work is so rigidly sextyped,
that women enjoyed a measure of protection
from unemployment in the Great Depression. It
was the case, however, that women were urged to
leave the paid labor force during the 1930s. That
most of them did not suggests that ideological sex
role prescriptions must be viewed not as determinant
of, but rather in constant interaction with behavior
in analyzing women’s experience during
periods of economic crisis.

In the next part of the paper, the focus of the
discussion shifts to the impact of the economic
crisis of the 1930s on women’s economic role in the
family – their unpaid work in the home. It is ironic
that the Marxist-feminist discussion of women and
economic crises has so far ignored this dimension
of their experience, for it is a basic insight of
Marxist-feminist theory as a whole that both paid
work outside the home and unpaid work in it are
crucial to women’s experience in capitalist society.
I will argue that in fact it was the work of women in
the home, rather than their labor market participation,
which was forced to “take up the slack” in
the economy during this period of contraction.

After having considered the economic behavior
of women in the 1930s, both in the labor
market and in the home, and on this basis having
rejected the “reserve army” theory, I will turn to a
counterexample. The manner in which large
numbers of women were drawn into the paid labor
force during World War II, and their expulsion
from it during the period of demobilization which
followed, certainly seems to suggest that the &dquo;reserve
army&dquo; theory does in fact have some explanatory
power. I will argue, however, that the circumstances
under which this occurred were highly peculiar
and did not really constitute a &dquo;crisis,&dquo; so
that this case is by no means an adequate basis
from which to generalize.

Finally, I will consider the implications of my
findings on the 1930s for the situation of American
women in the current economic crisis. This will
necessitate some discussion of how the situation of
women in relation to the economic system has
changed since that time. I will argue that the basic
contradiction between the continuing need for
women’s unpaid family work and the tendency to
draw them increasingly into paid production, and
the resulting disjuncture between the sex role ideology
and women’s actual behavior, has intensified
in the period since World War II. The meaning of
the experience of women in the 1930s for the contemporary
period will be considered in this context.
Although the need for further analysis is overwhelming,
some tentative strategic conclusions will
be drawn in the final part of the paper.

II. Unemployment of Women in the Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930s was the
most severe economic contraction Americans have
experienced in the twentieth century to date. The
official estimate of unemployment for 1933 is 25
percent 4 (and the actual proportion of people who
experienced economic deprivation was probably
much larger). Unfortunately, the only national
unemployment data available for this period which
are disaggregated by sex are those collected by the
U.S. Census Bureau in 1930, when the percentage
of all workers who had been laid off or fired and
were seeking work was only 6.5. These early data
are in several respects highly problematic, and can
by no means be assumed to be an accurate representation
of the extent to which the nation’s
available labor power was unutilized in 1930.
Nevertheless, for our purposes they are quite instructive.

The April 1930 census found an unemployment
rate of 4.7 percent for women, while that
enumerated for men was 7.1 percent. There is some
evidence that as the Depression deepened the relative
position of women grew somewhat worse, but
the available data clearly indicate that, insofar as
their paid labor force participation was concerned,
women were less affected than men by the contraction.
This is precisely the opposite of what the “reserve
army” theory about the relationship of
women to economic fluctuations would lead one to
expect. One might turn to an alternative hypothesis,
reasoning that since women’s labor power
is sold at a cheaper price than that of men, they are
the last to be fired during a period of worsening
business conditions. While this interpretation may
seem satisfactory for purposes of explaining the
aggregated unemployment figures, an examination
of the statistics on joblessness across the occupational
structure suggests an altogether different explanation.

Table 1 shows sex differences in the 1930
unemployment rates for the broad set of occupational
groups used by the Census Bureau at the
time, and for a small selection of specific occupational
groups characterized by high concentrations
of workers of one sex. The table suggests that
the female unemployment rate was lower than the
male rate in 1930 because the occupations in which
women were concentrated, occupations sex-typed
“female,” contracted less than those in which men
were concentrated.

Indeed, there is substantial evidence that, accompanying
the dramatic increases in the proportion
of women in the paid workforce over the course
of the twentieth century,* there has been a consistent
pattern of labor market segregation by sex.
Everyone “knows,” of course, that typists and
nurses are women, while steelworkers and truckdrivers
– and bosses – are men. Statistically,
sexual segregation is an extraordinarily stable
feature of the occupational structure. An analysis
of the detailed occupational data in the decennial
censuses taken between 1900 and 1960 has shown
that the amount of job segregation by sex varies
remarkably little, showing no fluctuations related
to the fact that decennial censuses occurred at
many different points in the business cycle. In any
of these seven census years, about two-thirds of the
women in the paid labor force would have had to
change their occupation in order for their distribution
in the paid labor force to approximate that of
men. 3

This extraordinary phenomenon results from
the fact that the increasing participation of women
in the “male” sphere of paid work outside the
home has been carefully delimited by an ideology
linking that activity to their sex. The vast majority
of women work in “women’s jobs,” occupations
which frequently have some structural resemblance
to their family role. They work in industries which
produce commodities formerly manufactured by
women in the home, such as clothing and processed
food. In white collar occupations, as secretaries,
teachers, waitresses, nurses, and so forth, women
perform such wifely and motherly functions as
schedule management, ego-building, child socialization,
cleaning up, caring for the ill, and serving
as a sexual object. Even in instances where such
structural resemblance to the traditional female
role is absent, more often than not women’s paid
labor activity is sex-typed and set apart from that of
men. The mere fact that a woman traditionally
does a certain job is usually sufficient to stigmatize
it as “women’s work,” to which members of the female
sex are supposed to be “naturally” suited.
Occupations in the “female labor market” are also
characterized by low status and pay relative to
men’s jobs, 9 reflecting the sexual inequality rooted
in the family and basic to the organization of
American society.

The sex-typing of occupations does, in part,
represent a cultural acknowledgement of the exsistence
of wage-earning “women workers,” and
yet “workers” are clearly distinguished as a separate,
male species. This helps to mediate the
contradiction between the continuing need for
women’s unpaid work in the family and the tendency
for women’s work to be increasingly integrated
into the sphere of paid production for profit.
Sex-typing is an ideological mechanism which denies
the existence of any conflict between women’s
family role and their role in paid labor, blithely
labelling both “women’s work.”

But the contradiction has been reproduced in
a new form in the workplace as more and more
women have entered paid employment: occupational
segregation along sex lines conflicts with the
ideal of a fluid labor market which can be “rationally”
shaped by the laws of supply and demand.
It is this caste-like character of the female labor
force which, ironically enough, prevented the automatic
expulsion of women from the labor market
during the economic contraction of the 1930s –
despite the emergence of an ideology prescribing
precisely that to ameliorate the unemployment
situation. This dimension of women’s role in paid
labor, sex as caste, is a twist in the interaction of
capitalism and patriarchy which the “reserve
army” fails to capture in its full significance. And
yet, sex-typing is the very essence of the blunting of
women’s consciousness of themselves as workers
which is the starting point of the “reserve army”

Because of the rigidity of sex-typing, the occupational
distribution of women before the 1929
crash (shown in the upper left portion of Table 1)
proved to be of great importance in determining
the impact on women workers of the severe unemployment
which followed. The “white collar”
clerical, trade, and service occupations provided
employment to more than half of all the women in
the paid labor force at this time, while men predominated
in the manufacturing sector. The
“white collar” group was comprised of the very occupations
whose rapid expansion in the early part
of the twentieth century had drawn many women
into the paid labor force; their growth accounted
for 85 percent of the rise in female labor force
participation during the period between 1890 and
1930. 16 As women entered them, the new clerical,
trade, and service occupations were typed “women’s
work,” and became an essentially permanent
part of the female labor market. 17 During the
Great Depression, for reasons outside the scope of
the present study, these predominantly “female”
occupations declined less, and later, than the predominantly
male manufacturing occupations. As a
result, women suffered less than men from unemployment.

The examples of “pure” sex-typed occupational
groups in the lower half of the table further illustrate
the way in which sex-typing protected
women from differential unemployment. Although
these occupations are in no way strictly representative
of the labor market as a whole, they do hint at
the structure of sexual segregation at a somewhat
greater level of detail than that offered in the broad
occupational groupings, and offer further support
for the argument being made here.

It should be observed, however, that even in
occupational groups sex-typed male, the unemployment
rates of women are lower than those of
men in the same occupation. This suggests that the
overall gap between the male and female rates may
have been somewhat less wide in actuality than the
data indicate. One reason for this is that women
were probably undercounted in the Census of Unemployment.
To be counted as “unemployed” one
must either have been temporarily laid off or have
lost her/his job and be actively seeking another
one. Young single women and, even more so,
widows and divorced women would be those most
likely to be self-supporting, and therefore most
likely to continue seeking work in spite of any difficultites.

This would also be true of the majority of
men in the labor force. Married women, in
contrast, might be more easily discouraged if their
husbands were employed, and as a result undercounted
in the official unemployment statistics. Indeed,
those data indicate that women under twenty
suffered the highest unemployment rates, and that
there was a general decrease in frequency of unemployment
with increasing age. 18 Furthermore,
the recorded unemployment rate of married women
was slightly lower than that of single women, while
that of widowed and divorced women was highest
of all. 19

There are other factors as well which suggest
that the gap in male and female unemployment
rates may have been somewhat less wide than the
data indicate. Women workers, both in hard times
and in the best of times, suffer various forms of
discrimination which increase the likelihood that
they will be underemployed. They frequently work
in highly seasonal industries, and therefore have
only irregular employment, being hired and fired in
response to short-term industrial fluctuations. 20
Also, women work part-time more frequently than
men.* Thus there is characteristically a substantial
amount of unrecorded underemployment among
women, even in good times, and under depressed
industrial conditions one would expect some increase
in its frequency. To the extent that this was
true in the 1930s, one might conclude that the
“reserve army” theory is applicabale to some sectors
of the female labor market, but this was the
case only because the “women’s jobs” involved
were volatile, not because men replaced women in

There does seem to have been a gradual deterioration
of women’s situation relative to men’s as
the depression deepened, however. Data collected
in some States on an annual basis clearly indicate a
relative worsening of women’s position, 23 although
when this change occurred and what its implications
were for women in particular occupations
cannot be gauged with any precision, since
the federal government did not regularly collect
unemployment data by sex in the 1930s.

The earliest set of reliable national data on sex
differences in unemployment after 1930 is that in
the U.S. Census of 1940. The recovery that would
accompany World War II had only begun,
and 8.3 percent of the experienced labor force were
still seeking work.* Another 4.9 percent were employed
in public emergency work. The female unemployment
rate was still lower than that of men,
but the gap had narrowed somewhat. 8.6 percent of
the experienced male labor force were unemployed
in 1940, and 7.5 percent of the experienced female
labor force were seeking work. The male unemployment
rate was thus only 15 percent greater
than the female unemployment rate, as compared
with a differential of 49 percent in 1930. This is
partly explained by the sex differential in public
emergency work, which occupied 5.2 percent of the
experienced male labor force but only 3.6 percent
of the experienced female labor force in 1940. But
even if persons doing public emergency work are
counted as unemployed, the resulting male unemployment
rate is only 24 percent above the female
rate. 26

One explanation for the deterioration of women’s
relative position in the unemployment rolls
might be that large numbers of women previously
engaged only in unpaid housework were forced to
seek paid work during the depression, in efforts to
compensate for the decline in family income resulting
from the unemployment of male family
members. Indeed, total female labor force participation
rose in the period from 1930 to 1940 more
than in any previous decade in the twentieth century.
There were, moreover, declines in the participation
of teenaged females and older women during
this period so that the increased participation
of women between 20 and 65 years old was even
greater than the aggregated figures suggest.*
There is also a vast amount of qualitative evidence
supporting the hypothesis that many married
women sought paid employment to compensate for
their husbands’ unemployment. 28

If correct, this suggests that the fact that the
unemployment rate of men was higher than that of
women had only an indirect effect on the unemployment
rate of women, insofar as the wives and
daughters of unemployed men could find jobs more
easily than they, and were thus drawn into the labor
market because of their declining family income.
There is no evidence of any mobility from the male
to the female labor market in the course of the depression
decade,** and the deterioration of women’s
relative position in the labor market seems to
have been due primarily to increased competition
among women for jobs in the female labor market.
In fact, the degree of sex segregation within the
occupational structure actually increased slightly
between 1930 and 1940. 30

Because the data on unemployment are so
poor and so problematic, it is not possible to learn
from them exactly what the relation of women to
the labor market was in the Great Depression. But
it is clear that the &dquo;reserve army&dquo; theory is not very
useful for this purpose, and that sex-typing is an
extremely important factor.

Perhaps one reason that the “reserve army”
theory has so seldom been questioned is that on the
ideological level, it was in fact the case that women
were urged to return to the home during the 1930s.
Male unionists and others frequently suggested
that women were taking “men’s jobs.” Their entrance
into the paid labor force in the previous
years, these men argued, had produced a scarcity of
jobs for men. 31 Disapproval of married women
who worked was particularly fervent. The executive
council of the AF of L urged that “married women
whose husbands have permanent positions…
should be discriminated against in the hiring of
employees.” 32 A 1936 Gallup poll indicated
that most Americans agreed, 82 percent of those
polled. 33

Nor were these totally idle arguments. Discriminatory
practices against married women were
actually instituted in a number of cases. Many
states reactivated old laws by means of which
teachers and other female civil servants were dismissed
upon marrying. 34 And yet, more and more
married women were being forced into the labor
market as unemployment struck their families. It
was clearly better, in spite of the cultural sanctions
which had emerged, to have what little income a
woman could earn than no income at all in a
household in which the male “breadwinner” was
unemployed. As a result, it was not possible for
ideological forces to successfully push women out
of the labor market. Such behavior was in direct
opposition to their material interests.

Nevertheless, the ideological condemnation of
women’s paid work did serve to diffuse people’s
discontent in the early 1930s. To the extent that
women could be blamed for the economic crisis,
attention was distracted from analyses which found
its roots in the workings of capitalism. The number
of people who actually thought that women had
“caused” the crisis was in any case quite small, and
yet women were not considered equally entitled to
paid employment by large numbers of people. This
was a less effective outlet for discontent, but not altogether
unlike what might have occurred if women
had in fact transferred their jobs to men.

Had that been the case, as the “reserve army”
theory suggests, women would have “taken up the
slack” in the economy quite directly. As it was, they
generally retained their jobs, while on the cultural
level some anger was directed at them rather than
at those who controlled the society that now could
not provide jobs for those who sought them.

III. Making Ends Meet: The Unpaid Work of Women in the Great Depression

Perhaps the most important reason for the inadequacy
of the “reserve army” theory is its failure
to comprehend the primary importance of women’s
economic role in the family. Indeed, it is the economic
need for their unpaid work in the home from
which the caste-like structure of the female labor
force, which is so basic to the experience of women
during a crisis in their role as paid workers, first
emerges. Even for this reason alone, it would be
foolhardy to overlook the impact of economic crises
on women’s family role.

The productive activity of women in the home
is accorded lower social status than any other occupation:
housework is a “labor of love” in a society
whose universal standard of value is money. Because
it is not remunerated with a wage, housework
does not directly produce surplus value. However, it
does maintain and reproduce the ability of family
members to work productively, their labor power,
which they sell in the labor market for a wage.

The work involved in providing personal
services has been greatly influenced by technological
developments in the course of capitalist expansion,
just as various productive activities which
once engaged housewives – food processing,
clothing manufacture, and so forth, have been increasingly
integrated into the sphere of paid labor.
Paralleling this process of the socialization of production
is the transformation of the family from a
unit of production into a unit of consumption. At
the same time, other institutions have taken over
some of the functions the family used to perform,
like vocational training and the care of the aged. As
this occurs, there is also a tendency toward nuclearization
of the institution. All of these changes
were well underway by 1930.

Within this general tendency for housework to
become increasingly dependent on commodity production,
at any one point in time there is a great
deal of flexibility in the allocation of work between
the home and the industrial workplace. During the
Great Depression, the long-term trends reversed
themselves, and women’s unpaid household production
became more important than it had been
in earlier years. In a sense, the family “took up the
slack” in the economy during the 1930s.

People who were unemployed naturally turned
to their families for support. The work of women in
physically and psychologically maintaining their
families became tremendously difficult as family
incomes declined and the psychological stresses attending
unemployment took their toll. Women
showed amazing resourcefulness in coping with the
crisis on the family level. They used a wide variety
of strategies, generally turning back toward “traditional”
forms of family organization.

The most immediate problem facing the family
struck by unemployment was the material hardship
created by their lowered income. Women cut
back family expenditures in many areas. Typical
strategies were moving to quarters with lower rent,
having telephones removed, and denying themselves
many purchased goods and services to which
they had become accustomed in the prospertiy of
earlier years-35 Clothing, prepared meals, domestic
service, automobiles, magazine subscriptions
and amusements were among the many products
and services which suffered declines in sales as optimists
heralded the “live at home movement.” 36

Many women managed to approximate their
families’ prior standard of living despite lowered
incomes by substituting their own labor for goods
and services they had formerly purchased in the
marketplace, reversing the trend toward increased
consumption in the preceding decades. Home canning
was so widespread that glass jar sales were
greater in 1931 than at any other point in the preceding
eleven years. There was a corresponding
drop in sales of canned goods, which had doubled
in the decade from 1919-29. 37 Similarly, the 1930s
saw a revival of home sewing. People who had never
sewed before attended night school classes to learn
how to sew and remodel garments. 38

Women’s efforts to cut back family expenses
by substituting their own labor for purchasable
commodities represented only one set of alternatives
in the struggle to make ends meet.* Many
women engaged themselves in paid work in attempts
to compensate for a reduction in family income.
There was a revival of domestic industry:
women took in laundry, ironing, and dressmaking;
they baked cakes to sell; they took in boarders. 40

Everywhere there were signs in yards advertising
household beauty parlors, cleaning and pressing
* Another strategy was that of going back to the land.
Actually, most farmers had lived in poverty even during
the &dquo;prosperous&dquo; 1920s, but this fact was evidently not
widely appreciated, for in the early 1930s, the flow of
people from farms to cities slowed and then actually
reversed itself for the first time since records of internal
migration had been kept. By 1935, 2 million people were
living on farms who had not been there five years
before. 39 This strategy had an understandable appeal at
a time when fear of starvation was realistic and widespread.
enterprises, grocery stores, and the like. 41

Women also sought paid jobs outside their
home to increase the family income. They did this
despite the strong cultural sanctions against married
women working, sanctions which were strongly
reinforced with the onset of mass unemployment.
Women who thus defied the cultural prescription
frequently justified their behavior as a response to
the family emergency created by the unemployment
of their husbands, and they generally planned to
stop working for pay as soon as the situation improved.
42 The following case is representative:

Until 1930 Mr. Fetter was able to support the
family. After that date his earnings from irregular
work were supplemented by his wife’s
earnings of $9.00 per week in a restaurant.
Both husband and wife disliked to have the
wife work, but there seemed no other solution
of the economic problem. 43

The last resort of families for whom none of
these strategies succeeded – and there were many
– was to go “on relief.” Accepting this alternative,
however, was widely viewed as an admission of failure
of the family. Mr. Fetter’s “reaction to the idea
of relief was violent.” 44 In another case study, a
husband and wife expressed their reluctance to accept
any government assistance: “We are able
people; we must keep on our feet.” 45 And in cases
where the relief strategy was pursued, a great deal
of resentment toward the social service agencies
was expressed. Experienced wives and mothers often
felt, not without reason, that the social workers
they dealt with were too young and naive to understand
the costs involved in raising a large family. 46

Added to the difficulties in maintaining families
on a reduced income were the demands placed
on the institution to reabsorb members who had
been independent during the better times before
the crash. Not only did unemployed husbands
spend more time around the house, but old people,
who frequently suffered from discrimination in
employment, tended to “double up” with their
sons’ and daughters’ families. 47 The younger
generation was likely to be relatively better off in
terms of employment, but were less likely to have a
securely owned dwelling. This strategy of pooling
the resources of two generations represented a clear
break with the long-term trend toward nuclearization.

Youth, who also faced discrimination in the
labor market, returned home during the Depres83
sion.* The dependence of this generation on the
previous one caused delays, sometimes permanent
ones, in new family formation. The marriage rate
dropped sharply, from 10.1 marriages per thousand
people in 1929 to 7.9, the low point in 1932. 49
In 1938 it was estimated that 1.5 million people had
been forced to postpone marriage because of the
economic depression. 50 Cohort data on evermarried
rates reveals that many of these &dquo;postponements&
dquo; were permanent. The proportion of
single women (never married by 1970) aged 25-30 in
1935 is about 30 percent higher than the proportion
in the cohort five years younger. 51 One spinster of
this generation recalls:

There were young men around when we were
young. But they were supporting mothers.
It wasn’t that we didn’t have a chance. I was
going with someone when the Depression hit.
We probably would have gotten married. He
was a commercial artist and had been doing
very well. I remember the night he said, “They
just laid off quite a few of the boys.” It never
occurred to him that he would be next. He was
older than most of the others and very sure of
himself. This was not the sort of thing that was
going to happen to him. Suddenly he was laid
off. It hit him like a ton of bricks. And he just
disappeared. 52

The material tasks of family maintenance became
extraordinarily challenging during the 1930s,
as women struggled to stretch a decreased income
to maintain the members of their nuclear family
and, in many cases, the younger and older generations
as well. However, this was but one aspect of
the increased importance of women’s unpaid labor
in the home during the depression. The task of
psychological maintenance was also made much
more difficult in families affected by unemployment.
The concrete fact of idleness, the declassment
in the community which generally accompa-
nied it, and a multitude of side effects associated
with the various strategies pursued to maintain the
family materially placed enormous strains on the
family as an emotional support system, and on
women’s role in its maintenance.

Since his role as wage-earner is often the basis
of the father’s status within the family, that status
tends to be lowered by his unemployment. The man
without a job in the 1930s often felt superfluous
and frustrated, &dquo;because in his own estimation he
fails to fulfill what is the central duty of his life, the
very touchstone of his manhood – the role of
family provider.&dquo; 53 The strain attending unemployment
was exacerbated in cases where other
family members were earning money. A woman
who replaced her husband as the “breadwinner”
during the Depression recalls:

In 1930, it was slack time. He didn’t have a
job, my husband. Even now, the painter’s
work is seasonal. So I went to work those times
when he wasn’t working, and he took care of
the boy.
Yah. He said he’s walking upside down, if
you know what that means. (Laughs.) You
start walking on the floor, and then you put
yourself upside down, how you feel. Because
he couldn’t provide for his family. Because
when we got married, he actually said,
“You’re not gonna work.” 54

To say that the unemployed father lost status
in the family would seem to imply that women who
assumed the role of &dquo;provider&dquo; gained somehow.
But such a role reversal was not a simple exchange
of power. Women’s responsibility for providing
emotional support to family members was not diminished
during this period. On the contrary, the
reversal of roles made this task much more difficult,
for an unemployed husband demanded more
support than ever before. If there was any increased
recognition of woman’s economic role in the family,
it did not represent a gain in status, for no one was
comfortable with the new state of affairs, and the
reversal of roles was resented by everyone involved.

The tension unemployment produced within
the family was intensified by the general declassment
accompanying lowered family income. As the
status of the family in the community dropped
there appeared alongside the tendency for families
to strengthen their ties with relatives a general decrease
in social contacts outside the family circle.
Lacking appropriate clothing and money for dues
or donations, many families stopped attending
church and dropped their club memberships. In
addition, many had sacrificed their telephones and
there was little money for carfare, so it was more
difficult to socialize with friends. 55 People were
ashamed of their lowered standard of living and
hence reluctant to invite guests into their homes. 56

Further pressures on the psychological balance
of the family were exerted by the various
strategies women pursued to maintain its members
materially. The simple fact of decreased income increased
family discord over financial matters, 57
and the crowding resulting from “doubling up,”
moving to less expensive quarters, or being unable
to heat all the rooms in a house during the winter,
produced much friction among family members. 58
Moreover, they saw much more of each other than
before, whether they wished to or not, simply because
they were unemployed and spent more time
at home.

Women in families affected by unemployment,
then, were under incredible pressure from all sides.
Their responsibility to maintain their families materially
and psychologically became much more
difficult to fulfill. Sociologists who studied the impact
of the depression on families at the time noted
that these strains generally resulted in an initial
period of disorientation, which was ultimately resolved
either through adjustment or “disintegration”
of the family. 59 Whether or not a family was
able to adjust to the new situation depended on a
variety of factors, but on the whole, these studies
showed that the impact of the crisis was to exaggerate
previous family patterns. “Well-organized”
families became more unified, while the problems
of unstable families were accentuated.

Families which survived the crisis intact certainly
were more “unified” in the sense that they
spent more time together than before, but it is not
clear that this choice was freely made or that families
were newly prized by their members. Indeed,
the Lynds reported that “Each family seems to
wish wistfully that the depression had not happened
to it, while at the same time feeling that the
depression has in a vague general way ’been good
for family life.’ ” Families which broke under
the strain did not always fall apart visibly. Although
the frequency of desertion, the “poor man’s
divorce,” rose, legal divorce was expensive, and its
rate declined. 61

There is scattered evidence that in some families
the strain was manifested in a decline in sexual
activity. The most common reason given for such
declines was fear of unwanted pregnancy. In a
number of instances, however, women reported
that they had lost respect for their unemployed
husbands, and could no longer love them as before.
63 A psychiatrist observed of a group of longterm
unemployed miners:

They hung around street corners and in
groups. They gave each other solace. They
were loath to go home because they were indicted,
as if it were their fault for being unemployed.
A jobless man was a lazy good-fornothing.
The women punished the men for not
bringing home the bacon, by withholding
themselves sexually…. These men suffered
from depression. They felt despised, they were
ashamed of themselves. They cringed, they
comforted one another. They avoided
home. 64

There must have been many cases like these, in
which the family simply could not cope with all the
strains which converged on it. The emergence of
social services on a large scale during the later
1930s probably represented, at least in part, a response
to these family failures, and supplied a
bolster to the institution. But what is really more
remarkable than the record of failures is the amazing
extent to which families were able to successfully
absorb all the new strains placed upon them.

In some cases there was organized resistance
to the agents of dispossession. In the country, there
were “ten cent sales” in which neighbors would bid
ridiculously low prices for a farmer’s property that
was being auctioned off by creditors trying to collect
on a mortgage, and then return it all to the
original owner. 65 In the city, people would move
the furniture of an evicted family back into the
tenement as soon as it had been put out in the
street, to the despair of the landlord. 66

While actions like these must often have represented
the difference between survival and disintegration
of a family, most families seem to have
depended even more on their internal strengths. It
was, to a great extent, women who took up the increased
burdens involved in maintaining the family
– indeed, this was their traditional responsibility.

The importance of their contribution to family
maintenance during the crisis was probably only
seldom recognized. In Tillie Olsen’s fictional portrayal
of a family’s efforts to cope with the crisis,
for example, the husband only appreciates his
wife’s contribution after she is taken sick. “You
useta be so smart with money – make it stretch
like rubber. Now it’s rent week and not a red cent
in the house. I tell you we gotta make what I’m
getting do… ” 67

Some women were revitalized by the increased
responsibility they acquired during the Depression.
One woman’s hypochondria disappeared with
the crisis: “Now her mind is taken up with the
problems of stretching her kitchen dollar further
than ever and keeping the home up-to-date and
clean without new furnishings and the help of a
cleaning woman.” 68 Another woman, a daughter,
who would never have looked for paid work if not
for the decline in her once wealthy family’s income,
developed a whole new sense of self-respect from
her experience as a wage-earner. She recalls:

Now it was necessary for me to make some
money because the stepfather was drunk all
the time and the father was pretending it
hadn’t happened. Having gone to a proper
lady’s finishing school, I didn’t know how to
do anything. I spoke a little bad French, and I
knew enough to stand up when an older person
came into the room. As far as anything
else was concerned, I was unequipped.
I heard there was a call for swimmers for
a picture called Footlight Parade. At Warner
Brothers. The first big aquacade picture. I
went, terrified, tried out on the high diving
thing and won. I couldn’t have been more
stunned. I truly think this is where I got a lifelong
point of view: respect for those who did,
no respect for those who had… just because
their father had done something and they were
sitting around.
I loved the chorus girls who worked. I hated
the extras who sat around and were paid while
we were endangering our lives. I had a ball. It
was the first time I was better than anybody at
something. I gained a self-respect I’d never
had. 69

This kind of depression experience was, of
course, limited to women of privileged social
groups, those who would otherwise have spent their
lives as more or less leisured symbols of their
father’s or husband’s status. Hard work was
nothing new to working class women, and their increased
responsibilities could not have been welcomed
so eagerly. For these women and their families,
the experience of sex-role-reversal – either a
complete shifting of responsibility for earning
money from husband to wife, or simply an increased
reliance on the wife’s unpaid work and her
strategies for survival – was a part of a very painful
period in the family’s history. The deviation
from traditional sex roles was thus, to say the least,
negatively reinforced by the accompanying experience
of economic deprivation for most families. It
did not generally mean that the husband-wife relationship
became more egalitarian in the long run,
rather the impact of the crisis was to define women
in terms of the traditional female role even more
rigidly than before.

Women “took up the slack” in the economy
during the Great Depression, then, not by withdrawing
from the paid labor force, as the &dquo;reserve
army&dquo; theory suggests, but in their family role.
There was an increased economic dependence on
their unpaid household labor, reversing the pre-
Depression trend toward increased use of consumer
goods. The process of nuclearization, similarly,
reversed itself, as the unemployed turned to
their kin for help. The family’s role in maintaining
people psychologically also became more difficult
for women to fulfill.

The traditional family role of women was reinforced
because of its increased material importance
during the 1930s, then, although women did not
“return to the home” in the way the “reserve army”
theory suggests. On the contrary, role reversals between
husband and wife were common, and precisely
because of the negative reinforcement given
to sex role reversal which resulted from its origin in
economic deprivation, traditional sex roles were reinforced.

IV. Woman’s Place in the World War II Emergency

The Great Depression ended with a boom in
the early 1940s, when U.S. involvement in the
Second World War stimulated a tremendous
amount of investment in war-related industrial
production. The labor surplus of the Depression
years rapidly disappeared, and soon the problem of
unemployment was replaced by a severe shortage of
labor power. All of this happened very fast, so that
it is appropriate to describe the situation as a
“crisis of expansion,” a truly extraordinary kind of
economic recovery.

Huge numbers of women were drawn out of
their homes and into the paid labor force to meet
the demand for workers. Many of them took &dquo;war
jobs&dquo; in industries which produced military equipment
or other war-related items, so that when the
war ended, so did their jobs. Thus the “reserve
army” theory, which, as we have seen, is quite inadequate
for analyzing the experience of women
during the contraction of the 1930s, fits their situation
during the period of demobilization in the
late 1940s rather well. Women were drawn into war
production “for the duration,” in many cases losing
their jobs immediately upon the conclusion of
hostilities. Most of them eventually found employment
in the postwar years in traditional “women’s
jobs,” so that their expulsion from the paid labor
force was only temporary. Nevertheless, the war experience
did demonstrate that women could, albeit
under rather peculiar circumstances, function as a
“reserve army”which was pulled in and then
pushed out of the labor force in the way the usual
formulation of the concept suggests.

The demand for female labor power created by
the expansion of the American economy during
World War II was of unprecedented magnitude.
Between 1940 and the peak of war employment in
1944, the number of women in the paid labor force
increased by more than 6 million, or 50 percent.
The largest demand came from manufacturing
industries, in which the number of women workers
increased by 140 percent from 1940 to 1944, as can
be seen in Table 2. In industries producing directly
for war purposes it rose by 460 percent. The female
clerical labor force experienced a doubling in the
same period. The only occupational group to
experience a decrease in the number of women
workers was domestic service.

Sixty percent of the women who entered the
labor market between 1940 and 1944 were 35 years
old or more, and more than half of them were or
had been married.76 Although many of these
women worked full time, the labor shortage also
stimulated substantial efforts to provide part-time
employment for women with heavy family responsibilities.
77 The first large scale child care programs
were set up (although these never met the huge
demand). Lighting and other workplace amenities
were improved in many plants as well, and employers
redesigned the work process of many
industrial jobs with women in mind, eliminating
the need to lift heavy weights, for example. The
motivation for all of this was, unmistakably, the
need to maximize the efficiency of the new workers,
who were difficult to recruit. Thus one government
pamphlet distributed widely to employers, entitled
When You Hire Women, pointed out that efficiency
decreased after a point with longer hours,
and that “Harrassed mothers make poor

Employers who offered women “men’s” wages
and working conditions could be assured of a labor
supply, and during the war it was common for the
government to assume the costs incurred in paying
women high wages in war industries. Ostensibly
because of the difficulties in estimating the costs of
producing military items, which often underwent
changes in design, government contracts often
stipulated that the manufacturer would be reimbursed
for all the costs of production plus a
“fixed fee.” The government thus took on all the
risks of war production and capitalists were guaranteed
a profit.79

Even where the beginning wages for women
and men were equal, however, women rarely had
equal opportunities for advancement.80 Similarly,
although women war workers often became members
of unions, they frequently experienced differential
treatment within the union structure.
Many contracts provided that women and men be
listed on separate seniority lists, and some stated
outright that women’s tenure in jobs previously
held by men would be theirs &dquo;for the duration&dquo;
only. 81

This definition of women’s war employment as
temporary was not limited to unions, but had been
explicit in all of the propaganda issued by government
and industry urging women to enter the paid
labor force. The thrust of the appeal, indeed, was
that women could do “their part” in the war effort
by taking industrial jobs. The expectation that they
would gracefully withdraw from “men’s jobs” when
the war ended and the rightful owners reappeared
on the scene was clear from the first.

Moreover, during World War II, suddenly
jobs which had previously had all the attributes of
“men’s work” acquired a new femininity and
glamour. There was an unrelenting effort to
reconcile the traditional image of women with their
new role. It was suggested, for example, that an
overhead crane operated &dquo;just like a gigantic
clothes wringer&dquo; and that the winding of wire
spools was very much like crocheting. 82 A pamphlet
emphasizing the importance of safety caps
for women machine operators to prevent industrial
accidents showed pictures of pretty women dressed
in the twelve available styles of head covering.83 A
1943 advertisement in Fortune for an iron works
company showed a photograph of a woman worker
operating a steel-cutting machine with this caption:

Tailor-made suit cut to Axis size! … Skillful
Van Dorn Seamstress, with scissors of oxyacetylene,
cloth of bullet-proof steel, and
pattern shaped to our enemy’s downfall! …84

The women who took war jobs were not
allowed to forget their sex for a moment. They were
not to be viewed as war workers, but as women war
workers in &dquo;men’s jobs&dquo; &dquo;for the duration&dquo; of the
war emergency. Media images of these women
almost invariably contained allusions to their
sexuality. An article on &dquo;Girl Pilots&dquo; in Life, for
example, quips:

Girls are very serious about their chance to fly
for the Army at Avenger Field, even when it
means giving up nail polish, beauty parlors
and dates for a regimented 221/] weeks….
They each have on the G.I. coveralls, called
zoot suits in Avenger Field lingo, that are
regulation uniform for all working hours.
Though suits are not very glamourous, the
girls like their comfort and freedom.85

Many women war workers reported similar attitudes
being expressed by their male co-workers.
One personal account, for example, noted:

At times it gets to be a pain in the neck when
the man who is supposed to show you work
stops showing it to you because you have nicely
but firmly asked him to keep his hands on his
own knees; or when you have refused a date
with someone and ever since then he has done
everything in his power to make your work
more difficult…. Somehow we’ll have to
make them understand that we are not very
much interested in their strapping virility.
That the display of their physique and the lure
of their prowess leaves us cold. That although
they have certainly convinced us that they are
men and we are women, we’d really rather get
on with our work

Women were laid off in huge numbers immediately
after the war ended. As industrial plants
reconverted to consumer-oriented production they
returned to their pre-war male work force. In
January 1946 the number of women in the labor
force was 4 million less than at the 1944 peak, and
only 2 million more than in 1940.87 The most
dramatic decline was in durable goods manufacturing,
the sector where most of the high-paying “war
jobs” had been located. The employment of women
in these industries declined by 1.5 million between
the 1944 peak and January 1946.88

Despite the fact that the nation had been wet
prepared for this eventuality ideologically, women
themselves resisted the notion that they were
working only &dquo;for the duration.&dquo; Most insisted that
they would remain in the paid labor force after the
war. Although at the beginning of the war polls had
indicated that 95 percent of the women who were
new entrants to the labor force expected to quit
after the war, 89 the Women’s Bureau’s survey of
13,000 women war workers in 1944-45 found that
three out of every four wanted to continue working
after the war ended. ~ Moreover, the older women
who had made up so large a portion of the new
recruits to the labor force planned to stay there: 81
percent of the women who were 45 or older said
that they intended to remain in the paid work
force. 91

Women clearly enjoyed working, and they had
strong material incentives to continue to do so in a
period of high inflation. The case of Alma is
perhaps representative of the general feeling of
women at the close of hostilities:

Alma goes to work because she wants to go to
work. She wants to go now and she wants to
keep going when the war is over. Alma’s had a
taste of LIFE. She’s poked her head out into
the onc~man’s world… Of course, all the
Almas haven’t thought through why they want
to work after the war or how it’s going to be
possible. But thay have gone far enough to
know that they can do whatever is required in
a machine shop. They’ve had the pleasure of
feeling money in their pockets – money
they’ve earned themselves. 92

And yet, the material fact of “reconversion” to
peacetime production would force the withdrawal
of many women from the labor force. They were
eventually reintegrated into it, not in the heavy
industry &dquo;war jobs&dquo; but rather in the white collar
and service occupations which had been part of the
female labor force before the war and which
continued to expand in the postwar years. While
women’s penetration into “men’s jobs” with high
status and pay during the war years proved
ephemeral, then, their increased presence in the
paid labor force would be duplicated in later years.

The experience of World War II clearly demonstrated
that women could function as a “reserve
army” to meet the economy’s needs in a crisis of
expansion. Had a depression followed the war –
an eventuality widely feared at the time, women
would almost certainly not have re-entered the
paid labor force as easily as they did in the period
of expansion that followed the initial postwar
contraction. And yet, the war-induced labor shortage
that drew women into paid employment was of
an extraordinary type. The jobs created by the
boom in industrial production for military purposes
were, by definition, temporary ones, whereas
in other periods of expansion the jobs women took
became integral parts of the occupational structure.

This difference was crucial, for it meant that
in the contraction of &dquo;reconversion&dquo; which followed
the war boom, the jobs women had were
essentially eliminated from the occupational structure.
This was most unlikely to occur in a depression
following a &dquo;normal&dquo; period of economic
growth, so that the demobilization experience can
only be regarded as atypical.

V. Epilogue and Conclusion

There have been numerous economic crises in
the twentieth century, of which the Great Depression
was of exceptional intensity. Yet, precisely for
that reason, it is a particularly revealing case for
the study of the impact of economic crises on
women’s lives. Its analysis allows us to critically
evaluate the &dquo;reserve army&dquo; theory, the major focus
of discussion on this question so far. More importantly,
understanding the relationship of women to
the mechanisms of adjustment to the crisis of the
1930s can contribute toward an analysis of the
current economic situation and its meaning for

In order to understand the implications of the
experience of women in the 1930s for the present,
however, it is necessary to look more closely at the
changes which have occurred in the intervening
decades. The most important trends were the
acceleration of the rate of increase in female labor
force participation and the resulting intensification
of the contradiction between this tendency and the
continuing need for the family.

In 1940, 26 percent of American women of
working age were in the paid labor force. By 1970,
4hat figure had risen to 40 percent. Accompanying
this dramatic increase in the size of the female
labor force has been an important change in its
composition. The labor force participation rate of
married women rose from 15 percent to 39 percent
during the same period, and that of women
between 25 and 44 rose from 31 to 48 percent.93

This represents a major change in the typical life
cycle pattern of female labor force participation,
and a new relationship between women’s family
role and their role in paid labor. While in the early
part of the twentieth century, the normal pattern
for middle class women was to leave the labor force
when they became wives and mothers, in the 1970s
it is common for women of both the middle and
working classes to work for pay at virtually every
point in their life cycles.

Accompanying this development has been a
remarkable change in the male labor force participation
rate. As Table 3 shows, while the labor
market participation of women rose in the postwar
decades, there was a major decline in that of men.
Until the late 1960s, the decline in the male rate
was at least partly due to the fact that men went to
school longer, but the fact that the rate for men
aged between 25 and 64 also decreased, although
less rapidly, indicates that this is really a more
basic trend.* Indeed, this is the age group of men
most likely to be in the labor force if employment is
available to them. Since this is also the age group in
which female labor force participation has expanded
most rapidly, the ratio of women to men in the
labor force, within that age bracket alone, has
increased steadily from .37 in 1950 to .54 in 1973.

This is almost exactly parallel to the changes in she
ratio of women to men among labor force participants
of all ages, suggesting that the trend among
the “hard core” of the male labor force is
representative of the overall situation.

The explanation for this seems to be that the
economic expansion of the post-war period has
been in occupational groups that were early sextyped
“female”: clerical, service and sales jobs.
Once these jobs were established as “women’s
work,” employers had little motivation to hire men
to fill them. Thus the demand for labor in the
postwar period was largely a demand for female
labor power and older and married women responded
to the demand. 95

Rough indicators of the demand for male and
female labor power can be derived from the broad
occupational groupings used by the Census bureau.
Throughout the period since World War II, nearly
half of all male workers were blue collar workers,
while only about 15 percent of female workers were
in this group. Similarly, about half of all female
workers during this period were in clerical or
service (other than private household) jobs, and
only about 15 percent of all male workers were in
these groups. Between 1958 and 1973, the proportion
blue-collar workers formed of all gainfully
employed persons dropped slightly, from 37 to 35
percent, while the proportion of clerical and service
workers grew from 23 to 29 percent. 96

Female labor force participation, for reasons
that are not altogether clear, has been increasing
faster than the number of available &dquo;women’s
jobs,&dquo; so that the female labor market is &dquo;overcrowded.&
dquo; 97 The unemployment rate of women
has been higher that that of men throughout the
postwar period, and the gap was widening until the
onset of the current crisis. In 1950 the unemployment
rate of men was 5.1 percent and that of
women 5.8 percent. In 1973, that of men was 4.1
percent and women’s 6.0 percent. 98

The accelerating integration of female labor
power into paid production in the years since
World War II has not left the family unaffected.
Wives and mothers who work for pay have increasingly
come to depend upon consumer goods and
services in maintaining their families. While the
much-vaunted affluence of this period has doubtless
been disproportionately enjoyed by those women
whose husands earn enough to allow them to
remain outside the labor force for most of their
lives, clearly many mass-produced household “conveniences”
have become widely available.

Even more striking in its effect on women’s home
responsibilities is the drop in the birth rate since
1957, and the tendency for women to stop bearing
children at a much younger age than formerly. 99
The period of their lifetime devoted to maternity in
relation to their life expectancy is rapidly shrinking.
More than half of all American mothers have
had their last child by the time they reach their
thirtieth birthday. This is a very important change:
the maternal role by which women have traditionally
been defined now takes up less than a seventh of
their average life-span, and presently the longest
phase of the female life cycle is that which follows
family completion.100

Thus as women’s role in the paid labor force
has come to take up a longer period of their lives,
their family role has yielded more and more of its
direct production functions to the sphere of commodity
production, while the reproduction of
children, the one commodity which this society still
inevitably depends on women to produce, now
takes up a much shorter period of their lives.

All of these changes, combined with the
increase in female labor force participation, have
made it somewhat easier for women to exist outside
the institution of marriage. It is true that the family
as an institution and women’s work within it
continues to be economically essential, as has been
emphasized repeatedly here. Also, women continue
to experience discrimination in wages, and this still
makes it very difficult for them to survive without
having the additional source of income that accompanies
marriage. And yet, the situation of
women is significantly different in this regard today
from what is was in the early part of the century,
when the vast majority of women who worked for
pay left the labor force when they married and had
children, never to return. The woman in a dual-worker
family, even though her contribution to
family income is much less than her husband’s,
can, simply because she has some independent
income, more easily choose to strike out on her own
than her grandmother, who was totally dependent
on her husband’s support.

Indeed, there has been a dramatic increase in
the number of women who have established single
person households in recent years. 101 The divorce
rate (per thousand women under age 45) increased
by a dramatic two-thirds between the mid-1950s
and 1970, while the remarriage rate (per thousand
divorced or widowed women under aged 55) rose by
about one-third during the same period. 102 Clearly
the family is experiencing real pressures as a result
of women’s dramatically increased role in paid
labor, and the subordination of women to men is
thus threatened.

Yet, the degree to which traditional sexually
stratified family patterns have persisted is as
remarkable as the signs of pressure on the family as
an institution. Because women’s paid employment
continues to be so sex-typed, so thoroughly linked
to their sexuality and to their family role in its
cultural definition, their increased labor force
participation has made only a slight difference in
their family role. Sex-typing, based on the assumption
that women’s labor force role is &dquo;secondary,&dquo;
insures that they will earn less than men, which
renders marriage to a man with greater earning
power more attractive. It also tends to supress
women’s consciousness of their actual power as
wage workers.

It is not surprising, then, that in the years after
World War II, the rapid increase in female labor
force participation which represented such an
unprecedented threat to the perpetuation of a
family structure in which women have heavy
unpaid responsibilities was accompanied by an
intensification of the ideology that said that their
&dquo;place&dquo; was in the home. This cultural current,
which Betty Friedan called “the feminine mystique”
in the 1960s,103 was nothing new in the
history of America, but the extent to which it
diverged from the reality and the possibility of
women’s lives was much greater than at any
previous point. Women were working outside of
their homes, and they could choose not to live the
“mystique” to a greater degree than ever before.

Just as in the 1930s and 1940s, when, as we
have seen, women did not passively conform to
ideological forces which pressured them to enter
and leave the labor force, so in the 1960s women
actively resisted the revival of the mystique. The
women’s movement has presented a strong challenge
to the system of occupational segregation and
to the notion that women’s primary role is that of
wife and mother, and clearly represents an important
force to be reckoned with.

In the years since World War II, then, female
labor force participation has increased, intensifying
the contradiction between women’s paid work and
family roles. Traditional sex role ideology has at the
same time become more essential to the perpetuation
of the family, and yet there has also been an
increase in political resistance to that ideology.
This makes the relationship of women to the
current economic crisis somewhat different from
what it was in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

At this writing it is unclear how long the high
level of unemployment that the U.S. economy
experienced in 1975 will persist. Predictions of
another economic depression in the immediate
future resembling that of the 1930s in its depth are
plentiful, while there is some evidence to support
the view that the recession may have “bottomed
out.” In either case, we can learn something about
what today’s economic crisis means for women’s
lives by applying our analysis of their experience in
the 1930s, once allowance is made for the structural
changes in their economic situation which have
occured since then.

Unemployment, as measured by the official
statistics, rose steadily in the second half of 1974
and at even a faster rate in the first five months of
1975, reaching a peak of 9.2 percent in May. 104
Since then it has tapered off slightly, but the rate
remains much higher at this writing than it was
even a year ago, at 8.3 percent in December,
despite the heralded “recovery.” 105

At the May peak, the unemployment rate of
adult women was 8.6 percent, while that of adult
men was 7.3 percent. 106 While this might at first
appear to indicate that women are suffering more
from the effects of the economic turndown than
men, it must be recalled that the female unem92
ployment rate has been consistently higher than
that of males since World War II. 107 In fact, with
the advent of the current crisis, the ratio of male to
female unemployment increased, from .67 in 1973
to .85 in May 1975.108 This indicates that, just as
in the 1930s, men’s unemployment has risen more
quickly than that of women under the impact of the
economic slump – although today, unlike the
1930s, it is more difficult for a woman to find a job
than it is for a man.

Again, because of the existence of a high
degree of labor market segmentation by sex, what
is crucial in determining the differential effects of
the crisis on the two sexes is the extent to which the
jobs in each labor market – “men’s jobs” and
“women’s jobs” – have been affected. The unemployment
rate of blue collar workers rose from
about 5.3 percent in 1973 to 13.0 percent at the
May 1975 peak,109 a rise about twice as large as
the increase in the total unemployment rate. This is
a rough but telling indicator of the reason why men
have been disproportionately affected by a crisisinduced
unemployment. In fact, the data bear a
remarkably close resemblance to those collected in
the 1930 Census of Unemployment, once allowance
is made for the fact that female unemployment
rates were higher at the onset of the current crisis.
In both cases, the heavy industrial production jobs
were disproportionately affected, and since these
were more often men’s jobs than women’s, the
overall effect on male unemployment was stronger
than that on female unemployment.

A better indication than the unemployment
rates of the differential effect of the crisis on the
male and female labor markets is the data on
employment. Here, no compensations need to be
introduced for “discouraged” or “additional”
workers, nor for any other groups which tend to be
neglected in the official counting of the unemployed.
The employment data confirm the fact that
the male labor market has suffered greater cuts
than the female labor market in this crisis. These
data are collected on a quarterly basis, and the low
point in the number of employed persons was at the
end of the first quarter of 1975. The number of
employed adult men decreased by about 1.3 million
during that quarter, while the number of employed
women remained about the same. 110

If the current crisis deepens into anything
resembling that of the 1930s, this picture might be
altered, depending on which parts of the occupational
structure experience the largest cutbacks.
The area in which gainfully employed women are
probably most vulnerable is the service sector,
where 17 percent of them work, as opposed to 8
percent of all men. 111 In a prolonged crisis, it is
possible that this sector would suffer severe cutbacks,
and this would have a significant effect on
the sex differences in unemployment. In any case, it
is clear that labor market segmentation provides
the key to understanding a great amount of the
effect of an economic contraction on sex differences
in rates of employment and unemployment as
much today as forty years ago, and that women will
not simply be ejected from the labor market. On
the contrary, it seems likely that sex-typing would
protect women from many of the effects of the crisis
on their paid work role, in much the same way it
did in the 1930s, since just as before they are highly
concentrated in clerical occupations and poorly
represented in manufacturing.

In regard to the impact of the crisis on
women’s paid employment, then, the current situation,
whether it becomes much more severe or not,
looks very much like the 1930s did. However, the
meaning of sex differences in crisis-induced unemployment
is quite different in the contemporary
context, in which dual-worker families have become
increasingly common. Cases of &dquo;role reversal,&
dquo; in which the husband is unemployed while his
wife is not would almost surely be more frequent in
a severe crisis in the 1970s than they were in the
Great Depression.

The spiraling inflation rate has affected even
those families not as yet struck by unemployment.
Already in 1974 buying power had decreased by
nearly 5 percent for the median household from its
1973 level. 112 Data is not yet available for 1975,
but it is certain that this trend has continued with
the deepening of the recession. There is scattered
evidence of shifts in consumption patterns resulting
from this crunch, indicating that just as in the
1930s, women are substituting their own labor
power for purchaseable commodities. Sales of
high-cost dry and frozen prepared convenience
foods have declined. 113 Americans are spending
more time bargain “hunting.” 114 One survey
found that half of all families spend most of their
free time at home rather than going out because of
the recession, that one in four is trying to reduce its
use of frozen and prepared foods, that half are not
buying new clothes, and that a third are repairing
items they would have formerly discarded.115

In some ways, families today are less well-equiped
to substitute their own labor power for
commodities than they were in the 1930s. Many
skills that were important to that strategy, such as
home sewing, have been converted into luxuries
and are more fully integrated into the commodity
economy. It costs more to buy the materials
necessary to make a dress by hand than it does to
buy a cheap, mass-produced one, and fewer people
know how to sew by hand. Similarly cheap “balloon
bread” is more economical than home-made bread.
Homes are completely dependent on running water,
electricity, and other forms of purchased energy:
one can no longer choose to cook over a woodburning
fire unless one is wealthy enough to have a
fireplace or a yard. Sales of a whole range of
“nonfood home products” such as detergents,
paper towels, light bulbs, bath soap and toilet
tissue have remained at their pre-recession levels in
1975, indicating that they have become virtual
“necessities” to most Americans and that substitutes
are not widely perceived as viable. 116

Thus the consumption strategies open to
families today are in some ways more limited than
they were in the 1930s. On the other hand, real
incomes are considerably higher, and the existence
of unemployment compensation and other social
services provides a cushion today that was rarely
available in the 1930s. Still, in a prolonged depression,
real income would further deteriorate and
existing social service provisions would be thoroughly
inadequate to the task of supporting masses
of long-term unemployed people. Unemployment
payments are available only for limited periods of
time, and, in any case, state and local government
are already on the brink of insolvency in many
areas. Unless social services were greatly improved,
in a severe depression families would ultimately
have to bear the burden of economic deprivation in
much the same way as they did in the 1930s.117

Another difference between the situation today
and that during the Great Depression is that
there has been a relative loosening of kinship ties
among large segments of the population. Today it
is more difficult to establish interdependencies like
those that frequently developed among multigenerational
kin groups forty years ago. “Doubling
up” of two generations in a single household, for
example, would be more difficult for many people
today. However, it seems likely that young people
would return to their families again as the crunch
affected them. In fact, teenagers today have the
highest rates of unemployment of any age-specific
group – 21.8 percent at the peak in May 1975,118
and the family has probably been absorbing this
group of unemployed people in much the same way
as it did in the 1930s.

It is difficult to know whether or not families
today are adequately equipped to absorb the
emotional strains attending unemployment in the
way that they did during the Great Depression. It is
certain, however, that great demands will be made
on the institution in its capacity as a psychological
shock-absorber. The increased frequency of role
reversals between the spouses and the increased
necessity of cutbacks in expenditures will surely
amplify the strains. The fact that family structures
have become more atomized in the years since
World War II, with higher divorce rates and more
women choosing to live outside the institution for
more of their lives, might mean that the family has
become generally less resilient as a psychological

Evidence of increasing pressure on this function
of the family is already abundant. A recent
newspaper article, aptly entitled “If Recession
Comes in the Door, Love May Fly Out the
Window,” reports that “Countless relationships
have been reexamined and transformed after money
troubles forced long-buried personal problems
to the surface.” 119 A survey by the Family Service
Association of America found that the demand for
family counseling is outstripping the ability of
available community services to provide it due to
the recession, and that there has been an “acrossthe-
board increase in anxiety and irritability regardless
of age or income bracket.” The report
notes further that role reversals between husband
and wife are frequent sources of resentment and
intra-marital conflicts. 120 Other observers have
pointed out the tendency for unemployed people to
internalize blame for the crisis.121

If the current crisis deepens into one as severe
as the Great Depression, then, the role of the family
and women’s work within it will be very problematic.
The demands made upon the institution, both
materially and psychologically, will in all likelihood
be quite similar to those of the 1930s, but the
various recent changes in housework and family
structure suggest that the range of flexibility in
family adjustment may have narrowed since that
time. Women might “take up the slack” in the
economy again in a 1970s depression, but the job
will be more difficult, and they may be less willing
to do it.

At this point one can only speculate about the
prospects for the development of an ideology like
that which emerged in the 1930s, blaming women
for causing the crisis by taking men’s jobs, or some
variation upon that theme. On the one hand, the
existence of the women’s movement may make that
less likely. On the other hand, such a form of
backlash is by no means inconceivable, and could
even take the women’s movement itself as its target.
Indeed, if a burden is placed upon the work of
women in the family comparable to that which they
bore in the 1930s, together with all of the pressures
which have converged upon it in the decades since,
a strongly misogynistic ideology might well be
necessary to keep women in their “place.”

Of course, much depends upon what women
themselves do. The strategy of the socialist-feminist
movement for this coming period must be one
which directly confronts capitalism’s historically
demonstrated use of women to absorb the shocks
of economic crises. We must organize around
demands that will force capitalists, not women, to
pay the price of the crises endemic to the economic
system from which they alone benefit.

The efforts of feminsts to break down occupational
segregation already have some clear organizational
forms, although there have been very few
actual gains. While this struggle should of course
be supported, it is obviously limited by the fact that
distributing women evenly through all the levels of
the occupational hierarchy does not eliminate the
real problem, the existence of hierarchy itself. And
in the process of fighting for equal access to the
male labor market, women are bound to alienate
the men they displace.

This is particularly true in a period of economic
contraction, when not only status, but the very
fact of employment is on the line. Indeed, as the
current crisis develops we can expect that there will
be increasing conflict over the issue of affirmative
action versus seniority. It is the responsibility of the
women’s movement and of the Left to provide a
clear analysis of this situation, which blames
neither women nor male unions, but rather points
to the fact that a capitalist economy cannot provide
people who want work with permanent jobs. The
best demand is for “jobs for all,” but this is
unlikely to be a viable basis of reorganization given
the Left’s current disarray. Shared layoffs are one
promising strategic option being tried in some
places to alleviate conflicts over seniority and
affirmative action. 122

The fact that crises of capitalism resolve
themselves through women’s unpaid family labor
makes that another important arena for struggle.
So far, the women’s movement has spent little
energy here, but there has been some discussion
among socialist-feminists of building a strategy
around demands for more and better social services.
In addition, there are some structures already
in existence which might connect with the struggle
to free women from the responsibility to consume, a
necessary part of the work they do in maintaining
and reproducing the labor force. Food cooperatives
and communal living units, for example, pose
potential threats to the family’s predominance as
the main unit of consumption, and they make
socialization and equalization of the burden of
housework a more visible alternative. Such institutions
are particularly easy to organize in periods of
economic depression, for the immediate gains they
bring are much more obviously desirable then. If
pursued outside of an explicit political strategy and
movement, however, such efforts could be accomodative
to the system’s needs in a period of
crisis rather than posing a threat to it. Such efforts
would best be put forth in conjunction with the
development of militant community organizations.

None of the programmatic elements proposed
here to resist the forces generated by the crisis can
be expected to have much lasting importance in
themselves. It is, indeed, tremendously important
that they not be projected as struggles to improve
the existing socio-economic order, but rather as
tactics that are part of a larger strategy to build a
qualitatively different society. Each particular
struggle, in addition to extracting concessions from
the ruling class, must be rooted in the context of
and contribute to the growth of a broadly based
movement with the larger goals of feminism and

Ruth Milkman
Department of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California 94720

1. Juliet Mitchell, Woman’s Estate (New York: Vintage
Books, 1971), p. 139.
2. Ibid., p. 124.
3. Margaret Benston, “The Political Economy of Women’s
Liberation,” Monthly Review, 21 (1969), reprinted in
Edith Hoshino Altbach, ed., From Feminism to Liberation
(Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing Co.,
1971), p. 206.
4. U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the U.S.
(1960), p. 73.
5. For details see Stanley Lebergott, “Labor Force,
Employment, and Unemployment, 1929-39: Estimating
Methods,” Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 67, No. 1 (July
1948), pp. 50-53.
6. R. R. Lutz and Louise Patterson, Women Workers
and Labor Supply (New York: National Industrial Conference
Board Studies, No. 220, 1936); U.S. Women’s
Bureau Bulletin No. 159, Trends in the Employment of
Women, 1928-1936 (1938).
7. Historical Statistics, op. cit., pp. 71-72. Also see
Chapter One of Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, The
Female Labor Force in the U.S. (Berkeley: University of
California Population Monograph Series, No. 5, 1970) for
an excellent discussion.
8. Edward Gross, “Plus Ca Change … The Sexual
Structure of Occupations Over Time,” Social Problems,
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 1968), pp. 198-208.
9. For discussion see Chapter 3 of Oppenheimer, op.
cit. Data on sex differentials in pay are fragmentary.
Some good collections of tables can be found in: U.S.
Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 155, Women in the Economy
of the U.S.A. (1937), pp. 46-76, and U.S. Women’s
Bureau Bulletin no. 294, 1969 Handbook on Women
Workers, pp. 132-138.
10. Robert W. Smuts, Women and Work in America
(New York: Schoken Books, 1959), p. 91.
11. Computed from U.S. Census Bureau, 1970 Census of
Population, Vol. PC(2)-7A, p. 1.
12. Albert Szymanski, “Race, Sex, and the U.S. Working
Class,” Social Problems, Vol. 21, No. 4 (June 1974), pp.
13. For a review of this literature, see Beth Niemi and
Cynthia Lloyd, “Sex Differentials in Earnings and Unemployment
Rates,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2/3
(1975), pp. 194-201.
14. U.S. Women’s Bureau, “Facts About Women’s Absenteeism
and Labor Turnover,” (August 1969), reprinted
in Woman in a Man Made World: A Socio-
Economic Handbook, ed. Nona Glazer-Malbin and Helen
Youngelson Waehrer (New York: Rand McNally and Co.,
1972), pp. 265-271.
15. Evelyne Sufferot, Woman, Society and Change (New
York: McGraw-Hill World University Library, 1971), p.
16. Lutz and Patterson, op. cit., p. 19.
17. For an excellent discussion of this process as it affected
clerical workers, see Margery Davies, “Woman’s
Place is at the Typewriter: The Feminization of the
Clerical Labor Force,” Radical America, Vol. 8, No. 4
(August 1974).
18. Computed from U.S. Census Bureau, 15th Census of
the U.S., 1930, Unemployment, Vol. II, pp. 280-281.
19. Computed from ibid., p. 344 and 15th Census of the
U.S., 1930, Population, Vol. V, p. 276.
20. For data on this phenomenon in the early 1930s see
U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 113, Employment
Fluctuations and Unemployment of Women, Certain
Indications From Various Sources, 1928-31. (1933).
21. U.S. Women’s Bureau, Bulletin No. 108, The Effects
of the Depression on Wage Earners’ Families: A Second
Survey of South Bend, (1936), p. 19.
22. Lutz and Patterson, op. cit.; Women’s Bureau Bulletin
No. 159, op. cit.; and Marguerite Thibert, “The
Economic Depression and the Employment of Women,”
Interriational Labor Review, Vol. XXVII, Nos. 4 and 5,
(April and May 1933), pp. 443-470; 620-630.
23. Lutz and Patterson, op. cit.; Women’s Bureau Bulletin
No. 159, op. cit.; Also see William H. Chafe, The
American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic and
Political Role, 1920-1970. (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1972), p. 270.
24. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Partial Employment,
Unemployment and Occupations, 1937; Vol. I,
p. 17 has the data from the first voluntary registration
enumeration; Vol. IV, p. 9 has those for the enumerative
check census. Reasons for the official rejection of the 1937
Census are mentioned in Lebergott, op. cit., p. 52.
25. For details, see Lebergott, op. cit.
26. All statistics in this paragraph are from U.S. Census
Bureau, 16th Census of the U.S., 1940, Population, Vol.
III, p. 10.
27. Historical Statistics, op. cit., p. 71.
28. See for examples the case studies in: Ruth S. Cavan
and Katherine H. Ranck, The Family and the Depression:
A Study of One Hundred Chicago Families (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1938); Mirra Komarovsky,
The Unemployed Man and His Family: The Effect of Unemployment
upon the Status of the Man in Fifty-nine
Families (New York: The Dryden Press, Inc., 1940).
29. Data on this point are scattered. Figures from a
Pennsylvania employment office show that the proportion
of women seeking jobs as service workers and in
sales occupations in 1936 was substantially larger than
the proportion of women in those occupational groups in
1930. See U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 155, op. cit.,
p. 37. Another interesting study with data on downward
mobility is: Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry,
Bureau of Women and Children, Women Workers
After A Plant Shutdown (Special Bulletin No. 36, Harrisburg,
1933). For discussion of the upgrading of educational
requirements of teachers and nurses which displaced
women into occupations of lower status see Smuts,
op. cit., pp. 103-4.
30. Gross, op. cit.
31. Caroline Bird, The Invisible Scar (New York: David
McKay Company, Inc. 1966), pp. 56-58.
32. Chafe, op. cit., p. 108.
33. Oppenheimer, op. cit., p. 44.
34. Smuts, op. cit., p. 145.
35. Cavan and Ranck, op. cit., p. 1.
36. Dixon Wecter, The Age of the Great Depression,
1929-41 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1948), p. 26; Winona
L. Morgan, The Family Meets the Depression: A Study of
a Group of Highly Selected Families (Minneapolis: The
University of Minnesota Press, 1939), p. 22.
37. Cicil Tipton LaFollette, A Study of the Problems of
652 Gainfully Employed Married Women Homemakers
(New York: Teachers College, Columbia University,
Contributions to Education No. 619,1934), pp. 95-96.
38. Ibid., p. 102.
39. Wecter, op. cit., p. 133.
40. Cavan and Ranck, op. cit., p. 82, Wecter, op. cit., p.26.
41. Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrill Lynd, Middletown
in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts (New York:
42. Cavan Ranck, op. cit., p. 83.
43. Ibid., p. 57.
44. Ibid., p. 57.
45. Ibid., p. 56.
46. Ibid., p. 159.
47. Wecter, op. cit., p. 29; Glen H. Elder, Children of the
Great Depression: Social Change in Life Experience
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.)
48. Linda Nasif Edwards, “School Retention of Teenage
Males and Females over the Business Cycle,” 1971, unpublished
manuscript. Wecter, op. cit., p. 29 argues that
youth returned home during the 1930s.
49. Historical Statistics, op. cit., p. 30.
50. Wecter, op. cit., p. 199.
51. Paul C. Glick and Arthur J. Norton, “Perspectives
on the Recent Upturn in Divorce and Remarriage,”
Demography, Vol. 10, No. 3 (August 1973), p. 305.
52. Studs Terkel, ed., Hard Times: An Oral History of
the Great Depression (New York: Avon Books, 1970), p.447.
53. Komorovsky, op. cit., p. 74.
54. Hard Times, op. cit., p. 191.
55. Cavan and Ranck, op. cit., p. 86.
56. Morgan, op. cit., p. 46.
57. Ibid., p. 21.
58. Cavan and Ranck, op. cit., p. 86.
59. See Cavan and Ranck, op. cit., Komorovsky, op. cit.,
and Robert Cooley Angell, The Family Encounters the
Depression (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936).
60. Middletown in Transition, op. cit., p. 146.
61. Wecter, op. cit., p. 198.
62. Historical Statistics, op. cit., p. 23.
63. Komorovsky, op. cit., p. 130.
64. Hard Times, op. cit., p. 229.
65. Ibid., p. 248.
66. Ibid., p. 248; also see Gladys L. Palmer and Andria
Taylor Hourwich, A Scrapbook of the American Labor
Movement (New York: Affiliated Summer Schools for
Women Workers in Industry, 1931-32), passim.
67. Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio From the Thirties (Delacorte
Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1974), p. 81.
68. Angell, op. cit., pp. 124-125.
69. Hard Times, op. cit., p. 127.
70. Elder, op. cit., pp. 214-215.
71. Glick and Norton, op. cit., p. 305.
72. International Labor Office, The War and Women’s
Employrnent: The Experience of the United Kingdom and
the United States. (Montreal, 1946), p. 212.
73. See Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 209, Women
Workers in Ten War Production Areas and their Postwar
Employment Plans (1946).
74. Wecter, op. cit., p. 130.
75. See Women’s Bureau Special Bulletin No. 20, Changes
in Women’s Employment During the War (1944) for
76. U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 211, Employment
of Women in the Early Postwar Period, With Background
of Prewar and War Data. (1946), pp. 7, 10.
77. U.S. Women’s Bureau Special Bulletin No. 13, Part-
Time Employment of Women in Wartime (June 1943).
78. U.S. Women’s Bureau Special Bulletin No. 14, When
You Hire Women (1944), p. 18.
79. Richard Polenberg, War and Society: The United
States, 1941-1945. (Philadelphia: J.B.C. Lippincott Co.,
1972), pp. 12-13.
80. International Labour Office, op. cit., p. 214.
81. U.S Women’s Bureau Special Bulletin No. 18, A
Preview As To Women Workers in Transition From War
to Peace (1944), p. 13.
82. Chafe, op. cit., pp. 138-139.
83. US. Women’s Bureau Special Bulletin No. 9, Safety
Caps for Women Machine Operators, supplementary
84. Fortune, Vol. 27, No. 2 (February 1943), p. 37.
85. “Girl Pilots: Air Force Trains Them at Avenger
Field, Texas,” Life, Vol. 15, No. 3 (July 19, 1943), pp.
86. Josephine von Miklos, I Took A War Job (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1943), pp. 188-189.
87. U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 211, op. cit., p. 2.
88. Sheila Tobias and Lisa Anderson, “What Really
Happened to Rosie the Riveter? Demobilization and the
Female Labor Force, 1944-47,” MSS Modular Publications,
Inc. (New York: Module 9, 1974), p. 9.
89. J.E. Trey, “Women in the War Economy — World
War II,” Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 4
(July 1972), p. 47.
90. U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 209, op. cit., p. 4.
91. U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 211, op. cit., p. 8.
92 Elizabeth Hawes, “Woman War Worker: A Case
History,” New York Times Magazine (December 26,
1943), p. 21.
93. Historical Statistics, op. cit., pp. 71-72; 1970 Census
of Population, op. cit., pp. 68-69.
94. Eli Ginzburg, “Paycheck and Apron — Revolution in
Womanpower,” Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy
and Society, Vol 7. No. 3 (May 1968), p. 196.
95. Oppenheimer, op. cit., pp. 97, 102.
96. U.S. Departments of H.E.W. and Labor, Manpower
Report of the President (1974), p. 268.
97. See Barbara Bergmann, “Labor Turnover, Segmentation,
and Rates of Unemployment: A Simulation-
Theoretic Approach,” University of Maryland Project on
the Economics of Discrimination, mimeo, August 1973.
98. A full set of data on this topic can be found in the
table in Beth Niemi and Cynthia Lloyd, “Sex Differentials
in Earnings and Unemployment Rates,” Feminist Studies,
Vol. 2, No. 2/3 (1975), pp. 194-201.
99. Ginzberg, op. cit., p. 198.
100. Evelyne Sullerot, Woman, Society, and Change
(McGraw-Hill World University Library, 1971), pp. 74-75.
101. Frances E. Kobrin, “Women and a Room of One’s
Own: Sex Differences in Living Arrangements, 1940-
1970,” unpublished paper, presented at the Berkshire
Conference on Women’s History, Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
102. Glick and Norton, op. cit.
103. Betty Freidan, The Feminine Mystique (New York:
Dell Books, 1963.
104. “Selected Unemployment Indicators, seasonally adjusted,”
Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 98, No. 9 (September
1975), p. 8.2
105. “The Recovery Seems Real, But Lagging,” San
Francisco Chronicle, January 3, 1976, p. 5.
106. Monthly Labor Review, op. cit.
107. Niemi and Lloyd, op. cit.
108. Computed from Monthly Labor Review, op. cit.
109. Ibid.
110. “Job Level Drops for Adult Males and Teen-Agers,”
The New York Times, April 15, 1975.
111. 1970 Census of Population, op. cit., pp. 1, 10.
112. “Buying Power Off Nearly 5 % in 1974,” New York
Times, September 14, 1975, p. 40.
113. “Recession Changes Public’s Food Choices,” The
New York Times, July 12, 1975, pp. 31, 38.
114. “American Families; Worried But Resolute,” The
New York Times, April 30, 1975.
115. This survey, which is also the basis of the article
cited in Note 114, was conducted by Yankelovich, Skelly
and White for General Mills, Inc., and is described in
“Recession dulls the good life,” San Francisco Examiner,
October 1, 1975, p. 25, as well as in Ibid. (The two reports
overlap only in part). Also see “Public Worry on Food
Prices,” San Francisco Examiner, September 30, 1975, p.
9, which reports on another survey focused exclusively on
food conducted by the same research firm for the Super
Market Institute.
116. “Nonfood Home Products Thrive Despite Recession,”
The New York Times, June 21, 1975.
117. “For This Unemployed Man, There’s a Cushion, and
’The Crunch Hasn’t Come!’ ,” The New York Times,
January 6, 1975.
118. Monthly Labor Review, op. cit.
119. The New York Times, July 28, 1975, p. 17.
120. Susan Roberts, “Inflation, recession — and families”
Social Casework, March 1975, pp. 182-185.
121. See “The Sullen Silence of the Unemployed,” San
Francisco Examiner, August 29, 1975, p. 1.; “Out of Job
and Out of Self-Respect,” San Francisco Examiner,
September 10, 1975, p. 23.
122. “Minorities and Women Fearing

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