THE SUBTLE REVOLUTION: Women at Work by Ralph E.--Ed. Smith


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A clear, complete, up-to-date look at women at work--with no final answers. If Ralph Smith et al. are right, the movement of women into the labor force (from 18 percent in 1890 to 50 percent today) constitutes a revolution scarce perceived but nonetheless powerful. Among its results, they allege, are a changed division of labor, new demands for equal treatment at work, equal responsibilities in the home, increased need for quality day care, even new patterns in male-female relationships. Paralleling the increase in rates, the legal change from allowing sex discrimination (""in the guise of protecting the weaker sex"") to pushing for equal opportunity and affirmative action is ""one of the most significant legislative developments of the post-World War II era."" Yet in other ways this movement looks less like a revolution, more like the extension of traditional sex-role patterns. Women are still segregated into a handful of occupations--over one-third clerical--and the major cause of an earnings gap bet ween similarly trained men and women is traced to women's failure ""to rise in the economic ladder over their working lives."" Discrimination persists, as in one insurance company where women were hired as claims representatives, men as claims adjusters, with the men being payed $2,500 more and enjoying a monopoly on paths for advancement. Unemployment remains significantly higher for women; working women still do the bulk of the housework. The concluding chapters on the federal income tax and social security systems show how these programs at times discriminate against the married as compared to those living together, against the dual career family, and against divorcees. The authors leave us with the question of whether government policy should indeed play a progressive role in furthering changes in the sexual division of labor, or remain ostensibly neutral. However inconclusive, this is a valuable source of information difficult to find in one place.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1979
Publisher: Urban Institute