The effects of changes in the participation of women in the workforce in the 1940s are numerous. 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. However, others find that working women then and now are not beneficial.
In the 1940s, 13 million women over the age of 14 worked. Most of these jobs were in sales. The percentage of married women who were working went from 11.7% in 1930 to 15.2% in 1940. 71% of teachers and 86% of 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). A statistical fact that could provide support as to why women viewed changes as positive is that 61-81% of women wanted to continue working even after the war ended. (Historylink).
Many organizations actively encouraged the participation of women in the workforce. An example of one such organization is the Women’s Labor Bureau which actively advocated for equality in the workforce. This organization was started 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).
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 is a well-known fact that 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 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.
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).
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 traditionally 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).
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)