From Mill Town to Board Room: The Rise of Women's Paid Labor

Dora L Costa
2000 Journal of Economic Perspectives  
I n the United States and in other OECD countries of the twenty-first century, women are likely to be active participants in the labor force, holding the full range of unskilled, professional and managerial jobs. Widespread work for pay outside of the home and work in the highest echelons of society would have been unheard of for the women of a century ago. In the United States, only 20 percent of all women worked for pay in 1900. Less than 6 percent of all married women older than 15 labored
more » ... r than 15 labored for pay. Those who did work came from predominately working-class families. By the century's end, the labor force participation of all women older than 16 had risen to 60 percent, participation of all married women older than 16 had risen to 62 percent, and participation rates were higher among college educated women than among those with a high school education or less. This dramatic change in women's social and economic status can only be understood by looking to the past. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, the "factory girl" set the stage for the unmarried "office girl." The unmarried office girl paved the way for the entry of married women into the labor force in the late 1950s, even though this entry was primarily in dead-end jobs in the clerical sector. In turn, the married women in the labor force paved the way for the rise of the modern career woman, doing work that requires a lengthy period of training and that offers genuine opportunities for promotion. As late as 1970, only 14 percent of all doctoral degrees were awarded to women, only 8 percent of all students enrolled in law schools were women, and only 8 percent of all medical school graduates were women. By the end of the 1990s, women earned 40 percent of all doctoral degrees and represented over 40 percent of all graduates from medical and law schools
doi:10.1257/jep.14.4.101 fatcat:vga22cifhza4plppmew7ka5dju