The effects of changes in the participation of women in the workforce in the 1940s are positive. Men had to leave their jobs to fight for the United States in World War II. If women had not taken up the jobs that the men had left behind, then the economy would have collapsed, and the country had only recently gotten out of a severe depression. The participation of women in the workforce assisted in the progression of the gender equality movement which is a movement that is still taking place today. Women have gained the confidence to be independent and this started in the 1940s. However, others find that allowing women to work is not beneficial as they believe women should stick to their “traditional” roles.
In the 1940s, millions of women above the age of 14 were employed. Many of these jobs were in marketing. The percentage of married women who were working went from 11.7% in 1930 to 15.2% in 1940. 71% of all teachers and 86% of all librarians were women in 1940 (American Decades Citation). At the peak of the war, more than 19 million women were employed.
The effects of changes that occurred when women worked in World War II can be perceived as positive or negative. Prior to the 1940s, many women were working, though not as many were as in the 1940s and beyond. One could argue that women saw the effects as positive because they may have felt a sense of freedom and significance as they worked in positions they had not been allowed to before (Working Women). According to Mrs. Else Perdicaris who was interviewed on the topic, “many of the men were gone and women just dug in and did it”.(Interview Citation).
Many organizations actively encouraged the participation of women in the workforce. An example of one such organization is the Women’s Labor Bureau which passionately promotes equality in the workforce. This organization was began in 1920 and is still in existence today. The organization believes that the country has come a long way in terms of gender equality in the workplace but still has some “barriers” to knock down. According to the Women’s Labor Bureau, “the number of women in the labor force has both reflected and contributed to a major social transformation over the past several decades” (Dol.gov).
The government in the 1940s believed that women were necessary in order for the economy to progress. Because some women were hesitant to take up jobs, the government created propaganda to encourage women to work. This is how “Rosie the Riveter” came to be. She was based off of a real woman who worked as an aircraft assembly worker which allowed for women to be able to relate to her. Rosie was depicted with muscles which was a change because muscles were never associated with women in the 1940s (Working Women). Women did feel inspired and felt that a positive change had taken place and that was the change in how many women were working.
While most women found the effects to be positive in the 1940s, many were hesitant to accept the change and may have seen the effects as negative. Women were unsure that equality was the best thing for the nation because many had never known what it was like to be treated as an equal by a man. Older generations during this time period were also very suspicious as it’s harder to accept change when you’ve lived your whole life the same way. Still others may have been more lenient had they not had children and been hesitant about leaving them in order to work.
The changes were also perceived as negative. Men were sent to fight in World War II and had to give their jobs up. These jobs were given to women who grew accustomed to working and enjoyed it. However, when they returned they expected to get their jobs back and many were angered when women refused to give their jobs up. For this reason, many men may have found the effects to be negative because the change meant that they wouldn’t have their jobs. However, in the end, many women were fired or had to leave their jobs so that returning veterans could be employed once more (History link). Mrs. Perdicaris was asked how she believed women felt when they had to leave their jobs and her reply was as follows: “I would think the women would be glad to get out of it… they’d be glad to not have to put on those work clothes and get up to the machinery and do whatever Rosie the riveter had to do” (Interview Citation). However, statistically speaking, 61-81% of women wanted to keep their jobs which shows that they did weren’t “glad” to learn they had to leave (Historylink).
Men started to gain respect for working women as the years went on. Women worked in the army in the WAC, or Women’s Army Corps and the navy in the WAVES or the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Women were not allowed to go out to combat but did other work such as typing and filing. Women were teased because they were working in positions typically held by men. However, when women taught men how to shoot guns and how to fly a plane, the teasing died down (Rosie the Riveter Book).
Mrs. Else Perdicaris agreed to sit down for an interview. She was born in 1930 and lived in Crown Point Indiana for much of her early life. She was 9 years old by the time World War II started and 2 years later when the U.S. entered the war she was 11. According to her, “women were doing was they had to do because it had to be done”. Much of the interview was focused on the role of women in the workforce from her point of view as she was too young to work during the war. When asked how women played a significant role in keeping up the economy during the war, she replied that they “kept things going” and that “the women had a big place in the workforce” (Cite the Interview).
In her interview, Mrs. Perdicaris made many remarks about how women working was a good thing but also made some remarks that proved that the older generation may accept certain things but in a different way than younger generations do. For example, she stated that throughout her years her opinion on women in the workforce has remained the same and said “I think if women can do a job…they’re capable and I think a lot of them can be much more capable than men…but no I think it’s a matter of capability and availability and personality”. “I think those things are the things that would make women capable of the work”. At the same time, however, she stated it was the “right way to go…to have a man as a head…women have to prove themselves”. Mrs. Perdicaris provided insight to both the opinions of those who believed the effects were negative as well as those who believed the effects were positive.
As time passed, women’s role in the workforce evolved. In 2000, 66.3 million women were in the workforce as compared to 19 million women who worked in the 1940s. By 2015, 73.5 million women were working and made up 46.8% of the total number of people employed. It is estimated that by 2024, 77.2 million women will be a part of the labor force (BLS Pdf). By 2002, half of all journalists, reporters, and newscasters were women (TxState). By 2009, 80% of American women who have receieved formal education made up the labor force in contrast to the 62% of women who did the same in 1963 (Economist.com). To many people, the increase in numbers is seen as a constructive change, while others feel that the change is unfavorable.
Next, many people viewed women taking up jobs as negative in the 1940s especially if the woman had a child who she had to leave at home while at work. In the 1980s, 55% of adults believed that a child would suffer if their mother was working and not taking care of them. By 2012, only 35% of adults still thought the same, thus proving that working women are more accepted then they once were (Poll 1).
After the war, returning veterans needed jobs, and women were forced to give their jobs up. Similarly today, according a public poll conducted in 2013, 27% of mothers had to leave their jobs for their family whereas only 10% of men have had to do that (Poll 2). This shows that while women are not as expected to fulfill their “traditional” roles, they still are somewhat expected to do so.
Furthermore, men today are more accepting of the fact that women are capable of working and accepting that their role can be beneficial. While in the 1940s men had some respect for women because they kept the economy up, this respect has only increased from then. In a survey conducted by CNN, 98% of men approved of “a married woman holding a job in the business or industry if her husband is able to support her” (CNN Citation).
Today, many more women feel that their role is extremely important and that they are necessary for our country to become more open minded and accepting. They also feel that while things are definitely progressing, a certain aspect that has stayed the same is the difference in recognition and appreciation that men and women receive. Women have to work harder than many men do to be acknowledged and many times perform the same tasks as men but get payed significantly less than men do. Towards the end of her interview, Mrs. Perdicaris commented that “success and comfort are not always coexistent…and I think sometimes women have to work harder to be able to accomplish something…than a man would have to work to get to the same point” (Interview Citation).
To conclude, the effects of changes in the participation of women in the workforce are positive. Over the years, the number of employed and educated women has only increased. Prior to the 1940s women were employed, but the 1940s really solidified and emphasized the fact that women were capable of so much more than they were thought to be. The 1940s provided a starting point to the future of so many women. Without women the country may have fallen back into a depression and their economy would have fallen. Rosie the Riveter inspired millions of women to work which proved that the government believed in women. Over time, many men and people of older generations started to recognize the significance of working women. While people are still prejudiced against women and don’t believe they should be allowed to work, the growing number of employed women and the progression of the gender equality movement proves that only good things have come from women participating in the workforce.