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Women as Workers in The Late 20th Century
Kelsey Hunt
The expectations of women and their roles in the home have changed a lot from 1950 to present day. Women have had many gains and losses that were supported or inhibited by the government. In this essay I will go over the expectations of women, women in the worker place, and some gains and losses for women throughout the second half of the 20th century.
During the 1950s women were expected to maintain the ‘housewife’ role even if they worked as well. Women were expected to give up there jobs for men when WWII ended, and were expected to do ‘women’s work’ if they did choose to work. During WWII women had taken on ‘men’s jobs’ and worked regularly. Being expected to give up those jobs when men returned from war was a loss for women who wanted to continue working, and many women took on clerical jobs or jobs as nurses and teachers that were perceived as being more ‘feminine.’ But this isn’t to say that women weren’t happy, many women took pride in taking care of their husbands and families but many were also unhappy with this. says this about women in the 1950s:
Women’s roles were greatly changed in the 1950s, with the men coming back from war and taking their jobs back. Women had, during World War II, taken men’s jobs while they had been away at war. After the war, many women wanted to keep their jobs. Many of them became wives and mothers as the men came back from the war. In 1957, 70% of working women held clerical positions, assembly lines or service jobs. 12 % held a profession and 6% held management positions. Those that held professional jobs worked as nurses and teachers. They found themselves taking care of the house and of their children. (Stoneham n.d)
During the 1960s the role of women, and what was expected of women began to change. More women were becoming educated and pursuing careers and influences like Betty Friedman’s “Feminine Mystique” lead women to stand up for themselves and pursue things they wanted to pursue, rather than doing things that were expected of them. This movement was a gain for women and it was supported by the government and other parts of society. says this about women in the 1960s:
Things began changing when the first birth control pill was introduced in 1960. Women now had the freedom to enter the workforce and delay having children. Unsatisfied homemakers identified with Betty Friedan’s 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique,” which challenged the traditional roles of women.

The 1963 President’s Commission on the Status of Women outlined suggestions for how women could receive better pay, education, opportunities and support for working mothers. Soon after, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensured that people of all colors, races, national origins and religions could not be discriminated against in employment. Women became more socially aware and sought to join groups such as Women Strike for Peace and the National Organization for Women. By the end of the 1960s women’s roles had changed dramatically as society began to better support non-traditional occupations for women. (What Role Did Women Play in The 1960s? n.d)
The women’s movement that started in the 1960s carried over into the 1970s. While hippie era was coming to an end, the women’s movement continued to thrive. The women’s movement gained a lot of support during the 1970s. The role of women was dramatically changing. There was no set role or expectation of women in the 70s. Some people still believed that women should take care of the home while many were supportive of women pursuing careers and education (or whatever they wanted to pursue. says this about women in the 1970s “Women in the 1970’s are dramatically changing their role. The reason they are changing their role is due to the Feminist movement. The Feminist movement began in the 1960’s but carried over to the 1970’s gaining a larger audience.” (Piatek 2011)
The 1980s had continued progress for working women. Education and career opportunities for women continued to increase and women continued to strive for independence and pursue non-traditional goals. Women during the 1980s were oriented toward careers in things like fashion and cosmetology. Women continued to make progress in the right to work and fair treatment in the work place. says this about women in the 1980s:
Throughout American society, the majority of women who worked continued to be employed in traditional female occupations such as clerical positions, factory work, retail sales, service jobs, secretaries, bookkeepers, typists, waitresses, cooks, hospital attendants, cleaning women and hairdressers. Very few women were in decision-making jobs. In 1988, women were paid about 32% less than men. This was, in fact, progress from 1970 when women only earned about 49% of what men did. Unfortunately, there was still a wide gap. (Diane 2011)
During the 1990s Hillary Clinton made a big impact on what was viewed as women’s roles. Many people were uncomfortable and opposed to her having such a large role in the white house and Bill Clinton’s presidency. Despite progress that had been made during the second half the century many people were not comfortable with having a woman leader. However; Women still made progress in the 1990s. Many leading singer and actors were women, girl power was thriving, and “you go girl” was a common compliment. Women continues to support each other and strive for things like equal pay despite setbacks. says this about women in the 1990s:
Despite some setbacks, feminism was alive and well during the 1990s. “You go, girl” was a popular expression during the decade. People also talked about Girl Power, and the importance of encouraging young women to reach their potential…this new generation of young women graduated from college, many of them began successful careers in finance and business, fields that had previously been almost exclusively male. As the 20th Century ended, it was obvious that women had made enormous strides towards equality, although not all of their goals had been achieved. (Diane 2011)
Between 1950 and the end of the 20th century women made many strides in changing their roles and what was expected of them. Women had some setbacks but made many gains and progress despite their setbacks. From the 1950s to the 1990s the role of women in America changed drastically and progressively, although there is still progress to be made.

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Diane, D. (2011, March 11). American History of Women in The 1980s. Retrieved November
30, 2018,from InfoBarrel History website: American_History_of_Women_in_the_1980s
Piatek, H. (2011, September 28). Women and Their Roles Throughout American History.
Retrieved November 30, 2018, from BlogSpot website:
Stoneham, N. (n.d.). Women’s roles – 1950s. Retrieved November 30, 2018, from
website: Role Did Women Play in The 1960s? (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2018, from
Reference website:

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