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April 18, 2013

Those Pesky, Long Term Trends

This chart fascinated me:

cohen_marriagegender2.png

Two things that leapt out at me:

1. In the early 20th Century, about half of unmarried women 25-54 did not work. How did they survive? Did they live with siblings? Parents? Were they (perhaps) performing domestic work in return for their room and board that did not show up in official labor statistics? Were there large numbers of Naughty, Kept Women roaming the fertile plains?

Remember: this is before the social safety net supposedly made women into mindless, zombie-like wards of the state :p That 50% of single adult women didn't work is a surprising number to me.

2. The steep increase in the percentage of married women who worked from 1920-1960. This is the much mourned golden age of Leave it to Beaver fame, where women lived lives of blissful contentment in suburban houses with white picket fences.

Now admittedly, two World Wars and a Great Depression occurred during a fairly short period of time (1920-1945). But the acceleration only increases after that time increment... before The Pill, and before Betty Friedan came along to tell us how miserable and oppressed we were.

This reminds me of the long term trends we observed with divorces (not to mention the inconvenient decline in divorce rates once No Fault became the law of the land):

divorce_rates2.jpg

I never fail to be amazed the power of looking at a longer time window. One other sentence from the linked post struck me as odd:

In a previous post I suggested that stalled progress [emphasis mine] resulted from feeble work-family policy, anti-feminist backlash, and weak anti-discrimination enforcement.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that sounds like a narrative in search of supporting evidence. Why should "progress" be defined as lots of married women working? What evidence do we have that the majority of married women want to work outside the home?

"Progress", in this woman's view, consists of families having the freedom to arrange their lives in ways that make them happy and prosperous. Being a two wage earner couple is not the only path that leads to that end, especially when one considers the costs (both social and economic) of day care.

Posted by Cassandra at April 18, 2013 07:39 AM

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Comments

Well, you're a bomb-throwing anarchist. You seem to want families to make their own decisions about how to arrange things under their own roof.

What if they make mistakes?

With every year that passes I am more convinced that the only way to organize a successful society is with pre-political associations like families. The political solutions are necessary, too, for some problems, but they can't address everything and shouldn't try. The political solutions should be there to buttress the non-political ones, just as a doctor intervenes when you have food poisoning but doesn't come over to your house and hand-feed you safe food year in and year out.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 18, 2013 10:46 AM

You seem to want families to make their own decisions about how to arrange things under their own roof. What if they make mistakes?

Well now, Little Lady, that's why *I'm* here!

Trust me, Michelle and I have made our share of mistakes.... that whole Tuscan Kale incident will no doubt scar both our souls for some time, for instance.

Nevertheless, we still think you'd be better off letting us protect your from yourself.

Posted by: Barack Obama at April 18, 2013 11:08 AM

about half of unmarried women 25-54 did not work

This is large as a percentage of unmarried women. But what percentage of women age 25-54 were not married? Marriages tended to happen earlier in 1900 than today giving them more time to have enterered into marriage before even reaching the low age boundary. If only 5% of 25-54 year old women were unmarried, this doesn't seem outside the realm of possibilities that it could be some combination of
a) they lived in their parent's or sibling's household
b) street beggars
c) off-the-books domestic work
d) off-the-books "domestic work"

If, however, half of women 25-54 were unmarried...

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 18, 2013 12:12 PM

With every year that passes I am more convinced that the only way to organize a successful society is with pre-political associations like families.

This -- and everything you followed it with -- sounds exactly right to me.

Posted by: Grim at April 18, 2013 12:19 PM

OK, so having finally read the article, they did have the marriage rate, and at 25% you are looking at 13% of all women aged 25-54 unemployed.

What the hell *were* they doing to survive?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 18, 2013 01:25 PM

It's not just the author's assumption that higher rates of employment among (married) women is self-evidently desirable that bothers me. It's also his contention that:

As women's economic independence increased with better job opportunities, marriage became more optional and fewer women got (or stayed) married.

This is the assumption that causality runs one particular way: women have greater work opportunities so they feel less need to be married. In fact, it may be that marriage became less likely and/or less likely to be a lifetime job, and so women felt a greater need to work.

Given that married women are working at almost the same rate as their unmarried sistern, I'd say that the "marriage is no longer a guaranteed lifetime gig" explanation makes the most sense. Or perhaps there is no longer any causal relationship whatsoever between marriage and employment when it comes to women.

I wonder what the employment rates are for men, married and unmarried.

Posted by: Elise at April 18, 2013 01:33 PM

This is the assumption that causality runs one particular way...

That seems to be a repetitive theme with these folks. Have agenda, frame facts to fit agenda. Maybe he and Taranto should do lunch? :p

/running away

Posted by: Cassandra at April 18, 2013 02:01 PM

It's particularly amusing when they haven't even established causality in the first place.

Should be:

1. Formulate narrative.
2. Conflate correlation with causation.
3. Assume your unproven causation runs in the direction that supports your narrative.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 18, 2013 02:02 PM

Maybe he and Taranto should do lunch?

Well, my PoliSci professors always insisted that ideology was a circle, not a spectrum, and that at some point Left and Right met. Over lunch seems as good a place for that meeting as any other. :+)

Posted by: Elise at April 18, 2013 02:58 PM

I'm really amazed that there isn't a spike in the 1940s...there was an awful lot of riveting (and welding, and assembly, and all kinds of other things) to be done.

The general claim is that most of the Rosies went back, happily or otherwise, to full-time homemaker status.

Given that the women working in defense plants were largely displaced by men when these plants returned to manufacturing civilian products, there must have been an awful lot of hiring of women in other fields, IF these numbers are correct.

Posted by: david foster at April 18, 2013 04:30 PM

Given that the women working in defense plants were largely displaced by men when these plants returned to manufacturing civilian products, there must have been an awful lot of hiring of women in other fields, IF these numbers are correct.

I checked a few other sources before posting this, and they say the same thing. Here's another one:

http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/GenderGap.html


Posted by: Cass at April 18, 2013 05:33 PM

Astonishing...so whence came all the new jobs to replace those lost by the Rosies? The baby-boom kids were too young to need teachers yet...maybe a lot of it was clerical work supporting the vast increases in consumer-goods production and distribution.



BTW, here are some great photos: Women Building Airplanes During WWII, in Color.

(The "colorized" in the headline is inaccurate, these were originally taken as color photos, although some enhancement was done)

Posted by: david foster at April 19, 2013 09:00 AM

Given that the women working in defense plants were largely displaced

Were they displaced? Are you sure? The post war economic boom may have meant the returning soldiers were added to the work force, but there may have been no need to send the women out the door.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 19, 2013 09:06 AM

In the early 20th Century, about half of unmarried women 25-54 did not work. How did they survive?

I actually think I can answer this. Anecdotal at least. My maternal grandfather was born in the 19th Century. His family life was typical for the time, he was less so. He ran away from home in his early twenties because he was tired of handing his pay over to his father for it to be distributed to the rest of the family. Because that's what an unmarried man did at the time. Worked, and gave his pay to his father. Who he lived with. Until he was married himself.

And this is similar to my father's family. He, his brothers, and his sister were allowed to leave home under one of three conditions:
1) They get married
2) They join the military
3) They die

Three joined the Army to leave home (and subsequently married), the fourth married before he got to leave. Technically, a fifth died, but he was just a boy when that happened. But that was the rule.

I tell these stories to make it clear, if these women were unmarried in the early 20th Century, chances are they were living with a relative (probably a parent) and any work they did was either unreported or domestic in nature.

Posted by: MikeD at April 19, 2013 01:14 PM

That makes a lot of sense to me, Mike.

He ran away from home in his early twenties because he was tired of handing his pay over to his father for it to be distributed to the rest of the family. Because that's what an unmarried man did at the time. Worked, and gave his pay to his father. Who he lived with. Until he was married himself.

And yet we fret if our children can't afford to move out and start life with a place of their own. It's kind of crazy.

Before my youngest son was married, he rented a place with 3 or 4 other guys. Then he and my DIL got engaged and he moved to another city to live with her until they got married. I was less nervous about them living together (which was really none of my business) than about him leaving a good job in DC to move somewhere else but he found an even better job at higher pay (which was a big achievement since the cost of living is much lower where he ended up).

My oldest son was engaged when he graduated from college, so he lived at home for a few months the summer after he graduated and his wife moved out here from California and lived with us for a short while until the wedding. They both had jobs, but neither job was a career-type job. They were gateway jobs, just like the jobs my husband and I had at first didn't require a degree. Sometimes you have to get your foot in the door and move up.

I'm not sure how we forgot all that. The expectations seem inflated these days - if your first job out of school isn't the job of your dreams, you're "underemployed".

Jeez - whatever happened to being happy to BE employed?

Posted by: Cass at April 19, 2013 05:36 PM

Have faith, Cass. Another few years of Obama, and people will fully remember that pleasure. Remember, I say: not "experience."

Posted by: Grim at April 19, 2013 06:10 PM

Yu-Ain Gonnano..."Were they displaced? Are you sure?"

Don't have any data, but histories of this era usually include the assertion that the men wanted their jobs back and the women (mostly) were tired of riveting or tightening bolts or whatever.

Purely anecdotal, but Peter Drucker mentioned a defense project in which Cadillac was assigned to make a high-precision item, I believe bombsights. There weren't many workers still available at this point, so Cadillac wound up hiring a large number of prostitutes.

After the war (says Drucker), all of these women were fired, and several of them--who had evidently found bombsight-making much superior to hooking--committed suicide.

Posted by: david foster at April 19, 2013 08:36 PM

I'm no historical expert on this, but my strong impression from reading fiction is that women from the polite class, at least, continued to live with and be supported by their fathers and, if necessary, by their brothers or by their sister's husbands, until they were married themselves. A woman who didn't have any of these resources was in a tight spot indeed. That's where you get the "Jane Eyre" and "Jane Fairfax" stories from: the life of a governess awaited those who lacked an inheritance and failed to marry.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 20, 2013 03:13 PM

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