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Women’s Employment, 1865–1920

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Part of the American History in Depth book series (AHD)

Abstract

Between 1865 and 1920 a steady transformation occurred in employment patterns as more women entered the labor market, stayed at work longer, and moved into white-collar occupations. Nevertheless, women’s economic experiences remained distinct from men’s, subject to gendered limitations, and determined by demographic characteristics to a much greater extent than men’s. Class, race, ethnicity, and locality explained the sort of work a man might do, but not whether he worked at all. The Census believed that men worked “as a matter of course” for the greater part of their lives, yet in 1900 economic activity was “far from being customary, and in the well-to-do classes of society is exceptional” for women. In 1840, about 10 percent of free women held jobs, climbing to 15 percent in 1870 (when all African-American women would have been included in the totals for the first time) and to 24 percent by 1920. Marital status was crucial in determining whether a woman worked for pay, although class, race, age, and ethnicity all had an influence. Labor force participation rates were highest for African-American women, but even their employment levels decreased after marriage.

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Bibliography

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Copyright information

© S. J. Kleinberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brunel UniversityUK

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