"She Likes Her Work Very Much [but] Will Probably Quit": Husbands, Wives and Changing Opinions on Married Women’s Work in the 1930s

Evan Roberts, University of Minnesota

The rapid rise in American married women's labor force participation after World War II is seen by scholars as a surprising break with past trends. This paper uses interviews, conducted by sociologist Ernest Burgess, with 1500 engaged or married couples between 1928 and 1942 to show the roots of post-World War II change. Half the women, born between 1900 and 1915, intended to work after marriage, far above contemporaneous women's employment rates. Aging the cohort forward to compare with demographically similar peers in the 1950s and 1960s shows labor force participation rates consistent with the intentions expressed in 1930s interviews. Comparing husbands and wives responses shows that men's approval of women's employment lagged significantly behind their wives intentions to work. The interviews also reveal a significant minority of individuals and couples had conflicted feelings about married women's employment, thus contributing to a picture of significant attitudinal change in the 1930s.

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Presented in Poster Session 1: Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households