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Before women generally held careers

  1. Mar 2, 2005 #1
    I was just reading an old play in which one character tells another that women who don't marry or hold a career often become pathetic leeches - living off the begrudged hospitality of relatives who don't want them anyway.

    Which brought up something I've been thinking about alot lately. In the past, it was the status quo that in a family, the father would hold a job and the mother would stay at home. Now, women frequently work, and as a result, should be making more money collectively for their families (assuming their husbands work as well). However, I've been wondering, with such a huge increase in the supply of laborers, has the value of wages paid decreased across the board, with such a huge increase in the supply? Or, has the huge increase in the supply of labor that women provided allowed for an equally huge expansion of jobs, allowing for wages to stay closer to constant than not (though I realize women are still not payed on-par with men).

    Does anyone have any sort of data that could show a trend either way, whether women tending to work has in general caused the income of families to increase, stay the same, or decrease relatively?
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2005 #2


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    I don't have any data, but I think the value of those wages likely has dropped somewhat. It used to be that you could afford to support an entire family with just one parent working (traditionally the father), but now, it's almost considered a luxury for one parent to be able to earn enough for the other to stay home as a full-time parent/home-maker (whether the mother or father).

    Though, it could also be that our standard of living has increased along with the extra income of a second parent working, so what we consider necessities were only for the filthy rich when the traditional family had a husband who worked and a stay-at-home mom. For example, even owning a car used to be a luxury, and families didn't have more than one car. You lived close to where you worked, so you didn't have the huge expense of commuting long distances. There certainly was no such thing as cable TV, it was a luxury to have ONE black and white TV in the house, let alone one in every room, or computers or internet service, or expensive video games (board games and puzzles were relatively inexpensive), dishwashers, microwave ovens, CD players, though the radio was expensive and large enough to be a piece of furniture. Houses didn't have garden baths and walk-in closets (I live in a house built in 1960, and you get the bare basics in the bathrooms; that wasn't a room that used up much space in a house), and so on.

    The more I think on it, the more it seems the latter is the case.
  4. Mar 2, 2005 #3


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    For the working class, the 'ideal' of the father working and the mother staying at home was more to deal with the post World War II job market than a true historical trend. With so many men at war and the need to keep war production up at home, a lot of jobs disappeared for lack of anyone to work them. For critical jobs, a lot of the jobs normally filled by men were filled by women.

    After the war, when the men came home, the jobs couldn't be instantly recreated. It was very beneficial to promote the idea of the single income family for a while until the economy could re-diversify and re-create the jobs that had been eliminated. The GI Bill for WWII vets was another adaptation intended to give the economy time to readjust. If you could encourage some of the men coming back to go to college for a while, it reduced competition for jobs.

    The main difference between the historical trends and today is the types of jobs women hold. Long term, I think the only working class group that traditionally had stay-at-home moms were farmers, where the job was at the home.
  5. Mar 2, 2005 #4
    The "cult of domesticity" was really only brought about with the Industrial Era. It was the first time the male would go away from the home world (where he usually tilled his fields before) into the working world, which was different. Women were right out there helping out on the farms back in the day as well, and most of them did some sort of economic work during the Industrial Revolution because, like today, the family couldn't be supported on one income.
  6. Mar 3, 2005 #5

    The latter is the case. Even the poor in this country have multiple tvs, computers and internet access in their homes.

    And people wonder why i have no sympathy for them...
  7. Mar 10, 2005 #6
    I think that part of why the wages of women are less than that on men might have to do with the work-force not completely adapted to women working. I mean the work world has adapted to women working, but not entirely. Women have only been the growing percentage of he work force for about 35-40 years, thats not all that long if you think about it. There are also places in the world that still don't think women should work outside of the home. Like in the Middle-East. The only places women can work are in teaching or nursing professions. Every place else, men dominate the work force. Even though women are definitely climbing up the promotional ladder, there are still those who think women should be pregnant and bare-foot in the kitchen. Which is very unfortunate.

    Plus, for all the reasons that Moonbear mentioned, I agree that the wages have decreased proportionally to the standard of living. Realistically, our standard of living has increased. Especially here in the states. We have on of the highest standards of living in the world. So you're income has to grow to match. However, with everything that used to be concered a luxury now its just considered to be the "norm". I mean I remember about ten years ago, computers were considered to be a luxury, now my family has three computers, ( only one internet line, and one of them is about 11 years old and slower than cold molassas, but hey, I can't complain.) I was only about six or seven then and look how much things have changed.

    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Buler(sp?)
  8. Mar 11, 2005 #7
    We used to be a largely agrarian society, the stay at home Mom, was finished with her work day, well, never. Remember the old saying, " A man works from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done" ? One of my grandmothers was a farm wife with 11 children to raise. In 1965, she still churned her own butter, and made soap from hog fat. I watched her work, when that was over, she quilted, she mended, she was tired early in the evening. I watched her chop off the heads of chickens, and slop the hogs, and the dogs.

    Town women may have been different, but many women were expected to entertain, and do the work that many entire restaurants, with staff accomplish, for the social lives of their husbands.

    Women who wouldn't or couldn't marry or work, well there was always a nunnery to get to. There was always the situation of being a family slave laborer. Yes, families used to own their daughters, but that is not the case any more.

    Working women are still treated as accessories financially, that is what remains of the old status of women. It is not that families are rich because both parents work, families get by.
  9. Mar 11, 2005 #8


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    I tend to think that's the case. Who in 1950 had a tv? A microwave? 3 cars in a 4 person household?

    Household income has increased substantially across the board - I too wonder how much of that is due to wage increases and how much is due to more women in the workforce. Though, it could be offset by more single parent families and later marriages: I'm my own household - when my dad was my age, he was married (with no kids) and he and my mom both worked.
  10. Mar 11, 2005 #9
    Russ I can agree with you in that income has substanially increased across the board. I think it is proportional because the standard of living has increased over the years. I want to see if we can find some statistics on the increase of family income, increase of women in the work force, and the average standard of living for the middle class American family. I have no CLUE where to start though. (Internet searches are not my strongest attribute...:blush:)
  11. Mar 11, 2005 #10


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    That was true for my parents as well. By my age, my parents had two kids, but you're just a few years younger than I am. At your age, they either had no kids, or mom may have been pregnant with me (I'm not exactly sure how much younger you are than me). Both of my parents worked until I was born, when mom stopped working until both my sister and I had started school. Once my sister was in pre-school (half-day program), mom started working part-time, and started working full-time once we were both in elementary school and my grandparents could do the babysitting of us for the few hours we got home from school ahead of mom. With two parents working, we had a lot of things that weren't affordable with just one income. When my dad died and we were living off just my mom's income (and some small SSI income for me and my sister), there was a lot less to go around, and some of the "luxury" items, like a boat, had to be sold to bring in some extra cash.
  12. Mar 11, 2005 #11
    Moonbear its kind of funny you mention that that's how you grew up. I say that because my parents did the same thing with me and my sister. We're pretty convinced that we are one of the only families today that is like that. I mean we're both in high school now, but I remember growing up that way.

    By the way, the picture (I think its called an avatar?) under your name, is absolutely ADORABLE!!! :biggrin:
  13. Mar 11, 2005 #12


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  14. Mar 11, 2005 #13
    Russ, your good. :smile:
  15. Mar 11, 2005 #14
    Those are some pretty staggering statistics.
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