The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Work
The 1940's were a turning point in married women's labor force
participation, leading many to credit World War II with spurring
economic and social change. This paper uses information from two
retrospective surveys, one in 1944 and another in 1951, to resolve the
role of World War II in the rise of women's paid work.
More than 50% of all married women working in 1950 had been
employed in 1940, and more than half of the decade's new entrants
joined the labor force after the war. Of those women who entered the
labor force during the war, almost half exited before 1950. Employment
during World War II did not enhance a woman's earnings in 1950 in a
manner consistent with most hypotheses about the war. Considerable
persistence in the labor force and in occupations during the turbulent
1940's is displayed for women working in 1950, similar to findings for
the periods both before and after. World War Il had several significant
indirect impacts on women's employment, but its direct influence
appears considerably more modest.
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