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Womens Progression In The Workforce History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

As our country entered WWII, the workforce consisted primarily of men. Women made up only twenty-six percent of the workforce during this time. During World War II, the percentage of women in the workforce nearly doubled as a result of men being drafted into the war. [1] Immediately following the war many women were fired from their jobs, but this did not stop seventy-five percent of women from wanting to work outside of the home. [2] Women progressed in the workforce drastically during WWII, and the years that followed as a result of the war, economic challenges, congressional legislation, and changes in the dynamics of the workforce.

World War II affected the workforce in many different ways. The major way that WWII altered the workforce is that men were drafted into the military. This drafting left women to step into the jobs vacated by the men. Women soon found themselves being homemakers as well as doing things such as working long hours in factories. Women were able to demonstrate that they could perform at the same level as men in industrial roles. [3] They did not always receive equal pay and benefits as their male counterparts may have had, but the ability to do the work at hand was equal. Women also found themselves becoming members of the military. One example of this is Betty Budde, of Concord, who, during WWII was able to see the world as a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. [4] These jobs outside of the home caused women to gain a since of independence from the typical roles of the time of a working husband, and a stay at home wife. The media also encouraged women to be a part of the war effort through magazine and advertisements such as Rosie the Riveter. In some ways, the domestic circumstances of the war fostered the roots of the women’s rights movement that built on it. [5] Toward the end of the war, the advertisements started to change, reminding women that they would soon return to their homemaking. [6] The response from women was different though. Surveys showed that women wanted to continue working outside of the home after the war ended.

In 1945, many of the men that had been off in the war returned home, and many women were fired and forced out of their jobs. Some women even voluntarily left their jobs. One woman, Mrs. Neffe, stated that she left her job at a naval depot in Tacoma because her husband wanted “a wife, not a career woman.” [7] The number of women in the work force dropped from 20.3 million down to 15.9 million between 1945 and 1947. [8] Even though women were forced out of the industrial line of work, many sought the clerical and service jobs that were becoming available that men returning from the war did not want to take.

After the war ended, America expected women to go back to the same roles they were in before the war started. While the country attempted to create a new and exciting future, women’s roles changed, leading to feelings of isolation and worthlessness. [9] There was also a baby boom that followed the men’s return. [10] This baby boom caused women to stay at home and tend to their children and the domestic duties of life. The same media before that had encouraged women to join the war effort and work outside the home was now showing the “proper” gender roles of men and women by showing the ideal family being a stay at home mom, and a father who went to work. Also, men’s wages were higher than ever before, making it possible for the first time in U.S. history for a substantial number of middle class families to live comfortably on the income of one breadwinner . [11] With all these factors working against them, the setbacks did not keep seventy five percent of those women from continuing to want to work outside of the home. [12] 

As time passed, these determined women did not let go of hope of one day working outside of the home once again. The economy was changing so much that it was becoming almost impossible to live off of one single income. Social and economic pressures were causing families to spend more money and come to realize that they needed more income for the family. Living off of one income to create a heightened lifestyle was a struggle so it left it up to women to pick up a job outside of the home to help support the family, and its wants and needs. Yet, women still felt the social pressure to stay at home. [13] Industries were making it easier for women to do their typical duties at home, such as invention of the microwavable television dinner. Housewives became more and more dissatisfied with staying home as the skills for being a housewife decreased. [14] At the same time, many women were obtaining a higher education compared to earlier years. This higher education was preparing women for better jobs in the workplace than the clerical and service jobs that few were working after the war. Many women were starting to wonder if their higher education would benefit them, and not just their husband’s career.

By the 1960s, the previous social pressures of being a stay at home wife were overcome. The number of married women in the workforce at the beginning of the sixties was higher than at any previous time in American history. [15] During this time, cultural changes led many women to fight for equal pay for equal work done in the workplace. [16] Gradually, Americans came to accept some of the basic goals of the Sixties feminists: equal pay for equal work, an end to domestic violence, curtailment of severe limits on women in managerial jobs, an end to sexual harassment, and sharing of responsibility for housework and child rearing. [17] This was a major change in the roles of women in comparison to earlier in the century. Women were starting to move up the in the working world, even though American’s were still attempting to stop them. Some historians believe women’s entry into industrial jobs during World War II hastened societal and economic changes already occurring in the American landscape and that it may have lit a fuse that contributed to the women’s rights movements that were occurring. [18] These movements led to the acceptance of many women in jobs that would not have been imagined to be obtained before.

The 1970s also led to an influx of women into the workforce. This influx happened because (page 4 of RAND)

By 1980, forty three percent of the workforce consisted of women. [19] 

Many women who lived through World War II came to want different lives for their daughters. [20] 

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