Women at Work: An Analysis of Current Times in the United States

James Curry, Gustavo Del Castillo

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Resumen

Este artículo analiza las condiciones laborales de la mujer en los Estados Unidos, basándose en lo reportado por varios estudios publicados en el Monthly Labor Review durante 1994. El análisis se centra en el papel que la mujer ha desempeñado recientemente en el mercado laboral estadounidense, enfatizando particularmente el rol que juega dentro de la economía formal y las actividades de auto-empleo. Por otra parte, subraya los factores que más afectan la participación de las mujeres en dicho mercado, centrándose en origen étnico, nivel educacional y composición e historia laboral de la unidad familiar, así como en el rol que juegan los hijos en la inserción laboral de las mujeres. El análisis de estos factores revela el papel crítico que la educación desempeña en la formación de una mano de obra especializada que, a su vez, determina la división social del trabajo, en la cual se observa la aparente creación de mercados laborales segmentados, con participación femenina; esta segmentación afecta los niveles salariales femeninos, en relación con los obtenidos por hombres. Finalmente, este estudio destaca la importancia del salario femenino para la supervivencia del hogar.


ABSTRACT

This article reviews the condition of women in U.S. labor markets as reported in Monthly Labor Review articles from 1994. This diachronic analysis touches on how the role of women in the U.S. economy has evolved in recent times. Particularly important is their role in the formal economy, as well as their self-employed activities. Some of the most important factors affecting the employment of women are also analyzed, such as their ethnic origin and educational level, the composition and work history of their households, and the role which children play in their work experiences. These factors underline the role that education plays in creating a system based on an increasingly specialized division of labor and on the creation of seemingly segmented labor markets for women. This specialization/segmentation dictates women's salary levels and also their wage relations vis-á-vis their male counterparts. In this context, the analysis emphasizes the critical role that women's earnings play within the household, making their work of critical importance to household survival.

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Referencias

Martha C. Howell, Women, Production and Patriarchy in Late Medieval Cities(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 19).

Gerth and Mills' interpretation of this sociological construction is that "Weber's interest in world-wide comparisons led him to consider extreme and 'pure cases.' These cases became 'crucial instances' and controlled the level of abstraction that he used in connection with any particular problem. The real meat of history would usually fall in between such extreme types; hence Weber would approximate the multiplicity of specific historical situations by bringing various type concepts to bear upon the specific case under his focus." H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills, From Max Weber. Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958, pp. 59-60).

Howard V. Hayghe, "Are Women Leaving the Labor Force?", Monthly Labor Review, July 1994, pp. 37-39.

It should also be pointed out that men's labor force participation rates have declined since the 1950s--although interestingly this decline seems to have bottomed-out during the second half of the 1980s. See Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (New York: Basic Books, 1991)

William Goodman, "Women and Jobs in Recoveries: 1970-1993". Monthly Labor Review, July 1994: 28-36.

Goodman, p. 35.

This in contrast to the widely held view that capital merely seeks the cheapest labor that it can find. In reality, firms seek low labor costs, but they must balance this against other variables, such as skill levels, factory socialization, transportation and production infraestructure, location relative to markets and resources, and availability of suppliers and subcontractors.

Paul Ryscavage, "Gender-related Shifts in the Distribution of Wages", Monthly Labor Review, July 1994, pp. 3-15.

Wage categories are as follows (yearly earnings in 1992 dollars); low--less than $12 000; low-to-middle--$12 000 to $23 999; middle--$24 000 to $47 999; middle-to-high--$48 000 to 59 999; and high$60 000 or more.

All data utilized in this section of the analysis are to be found in Theresa J. Devine, "Characteristics of Self-employed Women in the United States," Monthly Labor Review, March 1994.

Many women preferred working under the new factory system, since they disliked domestic work and farm work was much too hard. Employers, on the other hand, preferred this new labor force because its rural origins meant it would accept low wages and that it lacked a labor rights ideology, such that: "...the new corporations looked to obtain workers not paying sufficient wages to draw males away from their occupations (form which they might also bring ideas about workers' prerequisites and rights), but to attract a less skilled workforce of rural female labor. Domestic service, the only widely available alternative employment paying wages, was repugnant to many women because of its subservient nature. Farm life had taught them how to work hard and not fear hard work. If they could be attracted, they could do the work." Laurence F. Gross, The Course of Industrial Decline. The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1835-1955. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 9.

All data which appears in this analysis are reported in Howard V. Hayghe and Suzanne M. Bianchi, "Married Mothers' Work Patterns: The Job-Family Compromise," Monthly Labor Review, June 1994.

All data appearing in this section of the analysis appear in William G. Deming, "Work at Home: Data from the CPS," Monthly Labor Review, February 1994.

There are a number of difficulties with the identification of these occupations, since the definition of what "childcare" means may be left to the interpretation of the census taker or of the respondent. In any case, it would appear that both of these occupations do not require a great deal of specialization although they may be technical in nature.





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