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Work and Family - Historical Context And New Patterns

unemployment single parent gender poverty women percent labor force

Most information written historically on work and family discusses issues related to the Western world or industrialized countries. In the preindustrial period of England and the United States, for example, the family was the unit of production. Men, women, and children worked in the home and in the fields. Life was characterized by an interweaving of the husband and wife's involvement with domestic life and with a productive work life. There existed an integration of work and family with the husband, wife, and children all working in the home (Coontz 1997; Hutter 1998).

With the Industrial Revolution, work was now separated from the economy. For men, it meant involvement in the outside world and in the expanding marketplace; for women, it increasingly meant confinement within the home. Legislation was introduced restricting employment hours for women and children, thus restricting women's employment opportunities and resulted in married women's staying at home to care for their children.

This ideology of women's confinement to the home originated in the middle and upper classes and is clearly a concept originating in Western family ideology that eventually extended to the working classes also, despite the fact that it ran counter to the economic needs of the family. The idea that work outside the home for married women was a "misfortune and a disgrace" (Oakley 1974, p. 50) became acceptable across all social classes. Nevertheless, although this ideology existed, families were still heavily dependent on the contributions of wives and children to the family budget and in many countries, such as Belgium and Spain, wives were gainfully employed (Janssens 1998).

Historical events, such as pressures of wartime economies, have led to the mass hiring of women in the labor force, causing a temporary relaxation of the gender divide. For example, the popular U.S. icon during World War II, Rosie the Riveter, signifies that women's efforts were seen as vital to the nation's survival. However, as soon as the men came home after World War II, the gender divide was restored. West Germany paralleled the United States in this phenomenon. In contrast, the East German government expected the war widows to replace the male breadwinner by seeking full-time employment (von Oertzen and Rietzschel 1998).

Changes that occurred in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s include an increase in married women with children in the labor force, a slight decrease in men in the labor force, a greater incidence of early retirement, a continued decline in real earnings, the elimination of many formerly well-paying jobs, wage concessions in several unionized industries, and the establishment of a two-tier wage system that offers lower wages and slower pay increases to new entrants into the labor market. Cyclical unemployment and permanent job loss due to takeovers, plant closings, and layoffs also have increased. Traditionally male jobs (e.g., in manufacturing) are disappearing and the types of jobs women traditionally have held (e.g., Historical events such as war have led to the mass hiring of women in the labor force. During World War II, women's efforts were seen as vital to the war effort. CORBIS/MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY in services) are increasing (Haas 1999). Many of the trends listed here have also occurred in European countries such as England and Greece (Brannen 1998).

Family and work are undergoing immense transformation as the twenty-first century begins. Today, alterations in the world economy are now affecting "every aspect of the employment scene—the work, the workers, the employers, and the typical career sequence" (Berger 1998, p. 528) in both developing and industrialized nations. In our postindustrial society, "the global economy is characterized by an advancing communications technology that dictates 'connectedness,' not only among nations, but also among individuals and within our overall social institutions" (Secret, Sprang, and Bradford 1998, p. 813).

In the poorest regions of the world, the shift is from agriculture to industry, as multinational corporations move in to take advantage of cheap labor (Berger 1998). Developing nations meanwhile are shifting from industry-based economies to information and service industries. As a result of all this change, certain job categories are appearing or disappearing, seemingly overnight; educational requirements for work are shifting every few years; and corporate strategies such as downsizing and outsourcing are becoming standard practices. Consequently the work path for individuals is much less predictable and secure than it once was, with a widening employment and income gap between those with knowledge and those without it (Berger 1998).

Technological change has also affected work and family. The growing use of computers, pagers, and cellular telephones, for example, meant that some employees could perform their work almost anywhere. Thus, home businesses and teleworking opportunities have expanded worldwide.

Although more U.S. workers were employed in the 1990s than ever before, many experienced an increase in work hours and job instability, and, for low-wage earners, a decline in real earned income (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt 1999). The number of contingent workers, those holding jobs without long-term contracts, grew in both the United States as well as European nations (Drew and Emerek 1998; Rogers 2000).

The beginning of the twenty-first century found almost half the civilian labor force in developed nations to be female: 40 percent in Japan, 45 percent in Canada and England, 46 percent in the United States, and 49 percent in Sweden (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1996). In 1998, almost 64 million women in the United States were employed in the civilian labor force and more than 60 percent of adult women were employed. In comparison, 75 percent of adult men were employed (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1998, Table 645). Hispanic women were slightly less likely to be employed (57%) in the United States. Historically, African-American women have had higher labor force participation rates than white or Hispanic women. Between 1994 and 1996, however, African-American and white women had virtually identical rates—approximately 59 percent. Hispanic women participated at a rate of about 53 percent. Since that time, African-American women have edged ahead to a participation rate of 63.5 percent in 1999. White, Asian and Pacific Islander women, and Hispanic women participated at 59.6, 59, and 55.9 percent, respectively (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2000). The labor force participation rate for Cuban women was 53.3 percent; for Mexican women, 52.8 percent; and for Puerto Rican women, 47.4 percent (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1997).

In examining labor force participation of women ages fifteen to sixty-four in developing countries in 2000, notable differences were found around the world. In Northern Africa, 37 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in Central America and Western, 42 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in South America, 46 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in South Central Asia, 47 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in the Caribbean, 54 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; and in Western Africa, 58 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000. The highest rates were found in Middle Africa (63%), in Southeast Asia (64%), and in Eastern Africa, where 73 percent of women percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000 (Population Today 2002).

Between 1960 and 1997, the percentage of married women in the United States labor force almost doubled—from 32 percent to 62 percent. During that same period, the number of employed married women between twenty-five and thirty-four years of age (the ages during which women are most likely to bear children) rose from 29 to 72 percent. Over 70 percent of married women with children were in the labor force in 1997, including 78 percent of those with children six to seventeen years of age, and 64 percent of those with children age six or younger (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1998, Table 654). In countries such as Belgium, France, Portugal, and Ireland, female economic activity peaks for women in their mid-twenties, and then falls as women leave the labor force to begin raising a family, whereas in Sweden and Finland rates continually increase for women until their fifties (Hantrais 2000). France has one of the highest female participation in the labor force rates for mothers, as well as one of the highest birth rates in the European Union (Fagnani 1998).

By 1990, nearly three-quarters of all divorced mothers also were involved in the U.S. labor force. The experience of women in the U.S. labor force follows that of their counterparts in Russia, Sweden, and Israel (Hutter 1998, 335). Many single-parent families are in poverty, however; for example, England, Australia, the United States, Canada, and Italy all have high rates of young children in single-parent families who are in poverty (Brannen 1998).

At the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, increasing ethnic diversity became evident in the workforce. In every developed nation—except France—the total immigrant segment of the labor force is increasing, with rates of 25 percent in Australia, 19 percent in Canada, 9 percent in the United States, Austria, and Germany, 3 percent in England, and 1 percent in two nations that formerly had virtually no immigrant workers, Italy and Japan (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1996).

Child labor is on the increase in the United States, especially those children in their teenage years (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Almost all U.S. adolescents now work at some time during high school (Mortimer and Finch 1996). Unlike children from Western industrialized countries, many children in poorer countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Morocco, perform a wide variety of jobs and they and their families are dependent on this income. One of the most visible forms of child labor in large cities in countries such as Brazil, Kenya, and India is that performed by street children. In countries that have been agricultural communities in the past but are under pressure to industrialize—such as many of the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia—child workers engage in both traditional work and modern industrial production. Tourism is also a major employer of children in many countries (Hobbs, McKechnie, and Lavalette 1999).

During the last several decades, the U.S. family has undergone dramatic changes that have had an effect on work and family. Similar to trends reported in the majority of developed nations, the U.S. family has become increasingly heterogeneous (Fredriksen-Goldsen and Scharlach 2001). Dual-career families now outnumber traditional families (those in which the husband but not the wife is the earner) 2 to 1 in the United States (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Alternative, noninstitutionalized family forms are becoming more common, particularly in Sweden, Denmark, and France, whereas patterns of family formation remain much more conventional in southern Europe, particularly Portugal and Greece (Hantrais 2000).

Other notable changes affecting the U.S. family include a decrease in overall fertility, an increase in family dissolutions, and a shift in economic roles within the family (Fredriksen-Goldsen and Scharlach 2001). In a reversal of traditional roles, some husbands relinquish the role of breadwinner to their wives. Househusbands are those rare men who stay home to care for the family and do the housework while their wives are the wage earners.

However, these changes are not limited to the United States. The role of women in many cultures has been changing. Traditionally, married Brazilian and Filipino women stayed in the home and performed housework and childcare while husbands worked outside of the home and were responsible for the family's economic support (Sroufe and Cooper 1988; Szanton 1982), but an increased rate of women in the work force has been observed in Brazil (Schmink 1986) and the Philippines (Eviota 1982).

In underdeveloped countries working mothers become more an issue of survival than of social significance. Among developing countries the housewife's income is likely to be an important addition to the material support of the family. As noted above, in many countries the income of children is also significant for the family.


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