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American Women in Transition

American Women in Transition

Suzanne M. Bianchi
Daphne Spain
Copyright Date: 1986
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    American Women in Transition
    Book Description:

    This is the first in a series of eighteen projected volumes, to be published over the next two years, aimed at converting the vast statistical yield of the 1980 Census into authoritative analyses of major changes and trends in American life. A collaborative research effort, funded by public and private foundations, this series revives a tradition of independent Census analysis (the last such project was undertaken in 1960) and offers an unparalleled array of studies on various ethnic, geographic, and status dimensions of the U.S. population.

    It is entirely appropriate that the inaugural volume in this series should document trends in the status of American women. Dramatic social and demographic changes over the past two decades makeAmerican Women in Transitiona landmark, an invaluable one-volume summary and assessment of women's move from the private domain to the public. Clearly and in detail, the authors describe women's increasing educational attainment and labor force participation, their lagging earning power, their continued commitment to marriage and family, and the "balancing act" necessitated by this overlap of roles. Supplementing 1980 Census data with even more recent surveys from the Census Bureau and other federal agencies, Bianchi and Spain are able to extend these trends into the 1980s and sketch the complex challenges posed by such lasting and historic changes.

    This definitive and sensitive study is certain to become a standard reference work on American women today, and an essential foundation for future scholarship and policy concerning the status of women in our society.

    A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-053-0
    Subjects: Population Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Charles F. Westoff

    American Women in Transitionis the first in an ambitious series of volumes aimed at converting the vast statistical yield of the 1980 census into authoritative analyses of major changes and trends in American life. This series, “The Population of the United States in the 1980s,” represents an important episode in social science research and revives a long tradition of independent census analysis. First in 1930, and then again in 1950 and 1960, teams of social scientists worked with the U.S. Bureau of the Census to investigate significant social, economic, and demographic developments revealed by the decennial censuses. These census...

  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Suzanne M. Bianchi and Daphne Spain
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. List of Figures
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
    (pp. 1-8)

    As women have taken on more roles outside the home, they have transformed society as well as their own lives. This monograph traces women’s transition from the private domains of marriage and family life to the more public domains of higher education and paid employment. Fertility is at a historic low, while women’s educational attainment and labor force participation are at an all-time high. These trends are the hallmark of an industrialized society and thus somewhat predictable. Yet the timing of the shift is important.

    In the twenty years between the 1960 and 1980 censuses, the average number of children...

    (pp. 9-44)

    Why begin a monograph on women’schanginglives by focusing first on their most traditional role as wives? Because, with the exception of motherhood, no other status is so universally assumed by women. Today, 90 percent of American women marry by age 30, a proportion that has remained fairly constant for the past century.¹

    It is also true that nearly 90 percent of adult men marry, but marriage has different implications for women and men. Early childhood socialization places more emphasis on marriage for girls than for boys,² and young women are more likely than young men to evaluate “having...

    (pp. 45-83)

    A woman may stop being a wife once she is divorced or widowed, but she never stops being a parent as long as her child lives. The anxiety sometimes associated with a first birth is the realization that it is an irreversible act. Unlike a spouse, a child cannot be divorced if things don’t work out. Or as Alice Rossi put it, “We can have ex-spouses and ex-jobs but not ex-children.”¹ Today women spend a smaller proportion of their lives at home with children than they did in the past, but the vast majority-nearly 90 percent-still become mothers by age...

    (pp. 84-110)

    The family and household living arrangements of women are an important area of attention for two reasons. First, changes in household living arrangements have been extreme during the past four decades. Second, family life cycles and household living arrangements are intimately tied to women’s economic and social-psychological well-being. The course of women’s family lives differs in important ways from that of men’s. And women’s family experiences are not uniform: Racial subgroups of women structure their lives differently.

    We have seen that the majority of women continue to marry and have children. Like women of their mother’s and grandmother’s generations, most...

    (pp. 111-138)

    “Oh, how immensely important is the preparation of the Daughters of the land to be good mothers.” Thus spoke Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke College, in justifying the creation of her school for women in the nineteenth century.¹ At the opening of Rutgers Female College in 1867, the Reverend Dr. Todd expressed a similar sentiment: “The glory of woman is in her home…. I want her educated to feel that the highest glory of woman is the paradise of home….”²

    Attitudes like these are not expressed in print very often anymore. Most Americans now believe that women and men...

    (pp. 139-168)

    Women have entered the labor force in dramatic numbers since World War II and the very fabric of American society has been revolutionized. But is the increase in women’s participation really a new story? Yes and no. The upswing in female labor force participation was evident by the time Gertrude Bancroft wrote the 1950 Census monograph on the labor force. However, in the mid-1950s no one was predicting how the age pattern and quality of that participation would be altered in subsequent decades. The projections in the Bancroft monograph did not anticipate the rise in age at first marriage, decline...

  13. 6 EARNINGS
    (pp. 169-198)

    Discussion of the changing labor force participation of women in the preceding chapter alluded to the earnings differential by sex. Working women do not earn as much as working men. In 1983 women who worked full time, year round averaged about $14,000 compared with $22,000 for men. (See Table 6.1.) Common explanations for women’s lower earnings are that they enter and leave the labor force more frequently than men, resulting in less work experience; women’s skills and educational background are not equal to those of men; and women are discriminated against in hiring, promotion, and pay. Research conducted in the...

    (pp. 199-220)

    Out of all the trends we have reviewed in previous chapters, two developments—the increase in divorce and the increase in labor force participation of wives—are perhaps most important in relation to the economic position of women. Why? Because these two trends have revolutionized the economic contribution women make to families: An increasing proportion of adult women assume a “breadwinner” role in addition to the “caregiver” role women have traditionally filled.

    Although the husband’s earnings are still the major source of income in the majority of husband-wife families, the importance of the earnings of wives has increased. Additionally, an...

    (pp. 221-240)

    Previous chapters have summarized the ways in which women’s lives are more complex now than they were in the past. Among young women, rising educational attainment and later age at marriage have interacted to produce a wider range of occupational choices and accumulation of work experience. Among married women, fertility has declined and labor force participation has risen. There have always been wives and mothers who worked outside the home, but until the last several years they were the exceptions rather than the rule. Now approximately half of all wives combine traditional family responsibilities with employment obligations. How women balance...

    (pp. 241-244)

    The notion of “cultural lag,” II developed by sociologist William F. Ogburn, is useful in understanding the changing roles of American women during this century. A cultural lag “occurs when one of two parts of culture which are correlated changes before or in greater degree than the other part does, thereby causing less adjustment between the two parts than existed previously.”¹

    The period before 1940 can be viewed as a time in which women’s actual economic behavior and society’s norms and institutions for supporting that behavior were in close adjustment. Women’s primary economic contribution was within the family as wife...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-286)