WOMEN, PRODUCTION AND REPRODUCTION IN INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM
A Comparison of Brazilian and U.S. Factory Workers
Helen I. Safa
Department df Anthropology
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903
WOMEN, PRODUCTION AND REPRODUCTION IN INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM
A Comparison of Brazilian.and U.S. Factory Workers **
Women have always constituted a source of cheap labor for industrial
capitalism. (Saffioti 1971). Btt the way in which women are incorporated
into the paid labor-force differs for-women of different cultures-,classes,
and stages of capitalist development. With the development of industrial
capitalism and the movement of production outside the home into the factory,
the family ceased to function as a productive unit and became dependent on
wages earned outside the home. While production became increasingly public,
reproduction remained within the private sphere of the family, though clearly
also affected by the larger economic changes occurring within society. As
Bridenthal (1976: 5) has pointed out, "for women, the experience has become
one of pulls between opposing forces, work and family" and the constant
attempt to reconcile the dialectic between the two.
It is through the allocation of labor at the household level that we
can see how larger economic forces impinge on women's productive and
reproductive role. This paper will examine the way in which women combine
their productive role in paid labor with their reproductive role as wives and
mothers in two societies at very different stages of development: Brazil and
the United States. While more industrialized than most Latin American
countries, Brazil is still heavily dependent on foreign sources of capital
and technology for much of her industrialization and economic growth. Partly
as a result of this dependence and the rapid shift into capital-intensive
industrialization, Brazil is also characterized by a labor surplus and high
rates of unemployment and underemployment, much greater than ever existed in
the U.S. Under these conditions of labor surplus, clearly only the most
This research was sponsored by a collaborative research grant from the Social
Science Research Council. The Brazilian data in this paper were collected by
Dr. Heleieth Saffioti, sociologist at the University of Araraquara, Brazil.
Her assistance in the preparation and analysis of this study are gratefully
productive members of the potential labor force can find employment,
excluding large numbers of women, particularly older, married women with
children. (cf. Sao Paulo 1978: 74). Thus, the percentage of women employed
in Brazil is less than half of that in the United States, while only
9.93% of married women in Brazil are employed compared to 41% in the U.S.
(Vasquez Miranda 1977: 270).
This study focuses on women factory workers in these two societies
since factory work represents entry level jobs into the formal labor market
in both countries for workers with relatively low educational and skill
levels. In Brazil, and most Third World countries, due again to the large
labor surplus, there exists an extensive informal labor market, in which
women play a predominant role, working as domestic servants, street vendors
and in other forms of casual labor (cf. Arizpe 1977). Factory work then
often represents the first stable form of employment open to Third World
women, and is generally reserved for young, single women who were born in
the city or have lived there since childhood and thereby been able to acquire
more education than most migrant women, who are largely confined to the
informal labor market.
The data analyzed here consists of 100 interviews with young, mostly
single women employed in a textile and garment plant in.Sao Paulo, Brazil
and 80 interviews with older, mostly married women employed in a garment
plant in New Jersey.I Sao Paulo was chosen for comparative purposes because
it is the most highly industrialized city in Brazil, if not in Latin America,
and the center of capital accumulation and economic growth, the showplace
of the "Brazilian miracle". In Sao Paulo, the percentage of women employed
is 35.3%, almost double the national average of 18%, but the number of women
employed drops off sharply after the age of 24, when most women marry.
(Sao Paulo 1978: 75). Thus, in Sao Paulo and Brazil generally, single
women still constitute the primary source of cheap female labor, much as in
the early stages of industrialization in Western Europe and the United States
(Tilly and Scott 1978). At a more advanced level of industrial capitalism
as in the U.S., however, young women remain in school longer and are
primarily employed in clerical and other white-collar jobs. Therefore,
marginal industries such as the garment industry examined here, are forced
to turn to a supplementary labor reserve, namely older, married women for
these low-paying, unskilled jobs. Thus, it would appear that in advanced
capitalist countries married women generally constitute a secondary labor
reserve, at least in blue-collar jobs and are employed only when the supply
of young, single women is not sufficient. Even in Sao Paulo, the women
employed in the garment plant (who constitute 20% of the sample) are older
and more likely to be married than the women employed in the textile factory.
Therefore, the nature of the industry as well as the nation's stage of
development help determine labor recruitment patterns.
How do these different recruitment patterns for women in paid produc-
tive labor at different levels of capitalist development affect the
allocation of labor at the household level? A look at the household
composition of these two samples appears to indicate a very different
allocation of labor in Brazilian and U.S. working class families. Whereas
the Brazilian women are generally members of large households with multiple
wage earners, the New Jersey families are small, with one or two wage-
earners. These differences in household composition and number of wage
earners within Brazilian and U.S. working class families, can be explained
I think, by different survival strategies of working-class families within
an industrial capitalist mode of production at two different stages of
development. In Brazil, where married women are generally denied access to
formal paid employment in factory jobs because of the abundance of young,
single women for these jobs, other family members are forced to become wage
earners at an early age, since multiple wage-earning is critical to the
family's survival. In the United States, however, where married women
may continue to be employed, it is not as necessary for other family
members,and particularly children, to contribute to the family income.
Both Brazilian and U.S. working class families often rely on more than one
wage earner, but in New Jersey, it is generally husband and wife who are
employed, whereas in Sao Paulo, with lower wages and higher costs of living,
several members of the household, including children, are forced to work.
Through a study of the allocation of labor at the household level we
can see how Brazilian and U.S. working class families employ different
strategies to maximize their family's survival. Both groups of working
class families have lost control over the means of production through the
process of proletarianization and have to survive through the sale of their
labor. They have entered what Tilly and Scott (1978: 105) referring to
early industrialization in western Europe, term a "family wage economy", in
which "the composition of the household no longer was dictated by a need
for household laborers, as in the family economy, but by a need for cash.
The balance between wage earners and consumers in the household determined
In order to maximize the number of wage earners per family, Sao Paulo
working class families incorporate other adult kin into the household and
send as many members into paid labor as early as possible. In contrast,
New Jersey working class families are much smaller, with only one or two
wage earners per household. Among married .couples, the principal
breadwinner is usually the man, but women often continue to work after
marriage and childbirth to supplement family income and to support their
children's prolonged education. Women may also reduce the number of
children they have, in order to invest in the upward mobility of a few,
rather than in the labor of many. In short, while in the Sao Paulo family
wage economy, the emphasis is on the maximization of the number of wage
earners per household, in New Jersey, the reduction in the number of wage
earners is balanced by the reduction in the number of consumers, particu-
larly children. In both Sao Paulo and New Jersey families, however, the
household and not the individual remains the basic unit of decision-
making, allocating the labor of household members to paid wage or domestic
responsibilities so as to maximize the family's chances for survival or
Brazilian Factory Women
While the U.S. may be characterized as an advanced capitalist economy,
where the vast bulk of the population depends on wages, Brazil is a depen-
dent capitalist society still incorporating many pre-capitalist features.
Brazilian industrialization, particularly in the post-was years, has been
largely financed and directed from abroad, particularly in the Sao Paulo
area where this study was conducted. The textile industry was one of the
first industries in Sao Paulo and has remained technologically quite mixed,
with very modern, capital-intensive plants, especially in synethetics,
and some older, more labor-intensive plants, particularly in natural fibers
such as the cotton textile factory studied here. The proportion of
S .omen workers is generally much lower in capital-intensive, highly automated plants,
which favor a reduced number of male workers at higher wage and skill levels.
(cf. Blay 1978:144-5)
Economic development and industrialization has apparently not led to higher
S -labor force p. ticipation rates for Brazilian women, at least in industry. In the
Sao Paulo are despite very rapid rates of industrialization since 1940,.the
percentage o women employed in the secondary sector has increased from only 14% in
194- to- in 1970 (Vasquez Miranda 1977: 266). This is due to the fact that
industrialization in Sao Paulo in recent decades has been primarily capital-inten-
slfve .I h industries as metallurgy, machinery, chemical, pharmaceuticals and
electroies-. 1.iile bureaucratic and clerical activities for women have increased
, - / ? ^ .
in these larger establishments, these occupations have been limited predominantly
to younger single women who have completed high school and some have even started
college. (Blay, 1978: 213)2 Thus, while the overall activity rate for women has
not charged much since 1940, there has been a marked shift of wonen out of agricul-
ture a,.; into services with industry remaining fairly stable (Population Council.
1978: 9, Blay 1978: 142).
The labor force for industrialization in the. Sao Paulo area was drawn largely
from foreign immigrants (especially Italians) and rural migrants expelled from *e
their peasant and artisan activities in the countryside. In our sample, 57% of the
women factory workers are born outside the greater Sao Paulo area, chiefly from the
surrounding state of Sao Paulo and the Northeast. However, as was pointed out
earlier, factory workers in Latin America generally are not recent migrants, and
our sample is no exception. Over 60% of the migrants in our sample have been living
in thecity for over 10 years, while over half qsid they came as children with
their parents. The educational level is also higher than that found among recent
migrants, who are generally employed in the informal economy as domestic servants,
petty vendors, etc. Among the factory women interviewed, 65% have completed
-primary school, (signifying four years of education) while 23% have gone on to
secondary school. In short, a factory job in Brazil and Latin America generally,
represents a considerable advancement over jobs in the informal sector. While
wages are very low by U.S. standards (48% earn between 2-3 minimum salary units
monthly 3), they are still higher and much more stable than what can be earned in
the informal sector, especially by women.
However, most women work in factories only for a short period of their lives,
from the time they finish primary school until they marry. Thus, in our sample
49% have worked in this factory less than four years and all but three of these
women are under 24. Among these factory women 64% are under 24 (24% under 1), .0 "
and only 13% are married and 5% formerly married.4) The most apparent reason behind
the small number of married women employed at the factory is the reluctance of the
owners to pay:t e rather liberal maternity benefits to which permanently employed
pregnar" women in Brazil are entitled. Cultural attitudes also work against the
employr..-nt of married womenA and 51% of our sample of single women indicated that
they planned to work only until marriage or pregnancy. While.cultural attitudes
undoubtedly favor married women staying home, it would appear.to be primarily the
abundance of a cheap, unskilled supply of young, unmarried women which mitigates
against the employment of married women.
Hence Brazilian factory women are forced to make a real choice between their
productive and reproductive roles; if they marry and have children, they will
probably be forced to give up working at least in factory jobs. Undoubtedly, many
married women continue to work in the informal economy, in self-employed activities
which are deemed more compatible with their domestic role.
Employed single women living at home are expected to contribute to the family
income. Only 23% of our sample (and ot a single married women) indicated that
they spend their salary only on themselves, the rest contributing all or most of
their salary to family and household expenses. Asked what would happen if they
were not working, 42% noted that their families could not afford to buy the same
things. It is-MTear then, that the meager wages of these women makes a
contribution to the family's welfare.
In fact, Brazilian working-class families appear to be surviving by following
a policy of multiple wage-earning, which drives both men and women into the labor
force at any early age. (Sao Paulo 1978: 65) In our sample, 89% of the women
started working under the age of 18, mostly in factory work.5) Those currently
living with their parents almost always started working under 18, suggesting it is
parental pressure which forces them to find a job. Households tend to be large
and to include large numbers of young adults who can work and contribute to the
family income. Thus, 28% of our sample consist of households numbering seven or
more members, with 40% of the families having four or more working members each.
(In the large families with seven or more members, 85% have four or more working
members). In most cases our respondents live with their parents (sometimes only
the mother), siblings, and occasionally other related young adults of the same
generation such as cousins.
Where neither parent is present, the woman ray be living with siblings or
other relatives and friends. However, young married couples generally live alone
or with their children and seldom with other relatives. Only two women live alone.
The point appears to be to maximize the number of working members of the household,
all of whom are expected to contribute to the family income.
The relationship of family income to the number of persons working in the
household is shown by the fact that the highest incomes are found in households
with the largest number of workers. Thus 52.6% of families in our sample with
monthly incomes of Cr. 6000-10,000 or more have from four to seven working members,
compared to 25% of those with one to three working members. (Table 1) Many of
these working members are brothers and sisters of the respondent. Most of these
siblings are also employed in factory or service jobs. Among 68% of respondents,
from one to three additional siblings are employed in the household, and in more
than three-fourths of these families, incomes range between Cr. 4000 to Cr. 6000
monthly. This is still low considering the large size of these families, but at
this stage at least older children seem to make a substantial contribution to
It is difficult to know how these families survive when these older children
are small and unable to work, particularly since it is difficult for mothers to make
up for their children's lack of earning capacity. It is significant that in our sam-
ple, married women have lower family incomes than single womae, most of whom live in
households with various wage-earners. (Table 2) .Married women with children may
continue to earn some income through the informal economy, by doing piece work at
home or petty vending, but this is generally not the equivalent of a paid factory
QT 01er formal job. This hardship undoubtedly helps account for the high rate of
$stiefnortality in Sao Paulo today, which has increased 40% in Sao Paulo in the
19tfb70 decade with the decline in purchasing power (IWood 1977: 57). At the
60Ct- ime, high infant mortality rates induces families to have large numbers of
VICk:'en ir the hope that some will survive to adulthood.
tj-) Rapid inflation and lagging wage rates have accelerated the decline in
S pufhasing power of working class families in recent years, resulting in a
ddeiease in the real minimum wage in Sao Paulo from 100 in 1960 to 70 in 1970
(Ibid.: 58). Minimum wage rates have been tightly controlled to keep labor costs
low and have not kept up with the rapid rise in prices. As a result, from 1958 to
196!~ the purchasing power of the wage of the head of the average family fell by
36.5% and even with more members working, the family's real income still fell by
9.4% (Sao Paulo 1978: 64). To cover basic minimum expenditure on food, housing,
transport, clothing, etc., a worker earning the minimum wage in 1975 needed to
work 466 hours and 34 minutes a month, or 15 hours and 55 minutes a day, 30 days
a month (Ibid.: 46). Workers have responded by extending the number of hours
worked and by increasing the number of workers per family. The number of members
employed in the average working class family in Sao Paulo from 1958 to 1969 5-
increased from 1 to 2 (Ibid.: 63), with many mor working at non-regulated and
pshabfy unreported jobs in the informal economy. Women also try to stretch an
insufficient wage by substituting domestic labor inputs (such as kitchen gardens
Sand chickens) for market purchases (Schmink 1979: 9). Consumption patterns have
Also changed, with a decreasing percentage of income spent on such basic items as
,food and clothing,/an increase in transport, education and recreation (Sao Paulo,
op. cit., 68).
-The necessity for a multiple wage-earning strategy in Brazil has therefore
been made parti ularly acute by a government policy which has allowed prices to
rise, while kee ing wages tightly controlled to keep labor costs low. This was
the price the oor of Brazil paid for the 'economic miracle" initiated by the
military government in 1964, which has slowed considerably in the early 1970's in
the wake of the worldwide recession. During this period, income inequality in
Brazil already/ the highest in Latin America, grew markedly; a recent study
found that from 1960 to 1970 the share of total income among the richest 5 percent
of the population increased 72 percent, while nearly 75 percent of the population
experienced no change during this ten year period. (Population Council 1978: 11).
The top 5% of the population took home 36.3% of total income, a share virtually
the same as that of the poorest 80% (36.2%). (Sao Paulo 1978: 60). The Population
Council (Ibid.: ll)quoting from studies by Kocher,(1973 and Repetto.(1974)notes:
"Studies of the relationship between fertility and economic
development indicate that, for countries at similar aggregate
income levels, the less skewed the social and economic distribution,
the lower the overall fertility level and the more rapid the fertility
decline... In other words, the more the benefits of economic growth
accrue to a small minority of the population, the greater would be the
tendency for low-income groups to maintain high fertility."
The data presented here offer one possible explanation for these findings.
That is, poor families continue to have large families under conditions of
xtremne income inequality4 soa thav a naLwag earners in the family.
High fertility levels of course mean increased number of workers, which can itself
keep wages down, by increasing competition for jobs, not only between men and
women but among men as well. Thus, high fertility levels may be contradictory
to the long-range, aggregate interests of the working class as a whole, but I
would-argue, it still appears functional from the perspective of the individual
working-class family, which has only its labor to sell. As long as men as the
principal breadwinners are not being paid the equivalent of a family wage, that
is enough to support themselves and their dependents, then other members of the
family are forced to contribute. In Brazil today, minimum salaries do not even
cover the maintenance of the worker during his/her working years, no less the long-
term consumption needs of the household (Schmink 1979: 8).
Factory Women in New Jersey
In the early days of industrialization in the U.S., the textile industry also
employed only young, unmarried women. In New England, where the textile industry
began, these women were primarily the daughters of farm and artisan families who
lived in boarding houses furnished by the factory and under close surveillance
from the management. However, as the industry burgeoned, the cost of these
relatively good living conditions for a resident female labor force grew too
expensive for textile owners, and they turned increasingly by the middle of the
19th century to immigrant labor from abroad. (Kessler-Harris 1975:220-1).
Immigration thus proved another fruitful way of reproducing a cheap labor supply,
particularly since immigrant women tended to work all their lives, married or not,
Married women often worked at home taking in boarders and sewing at exploitative
piecework rates on the putting out system.
With the entry of immigrant women into the labor force, working conditions in
the textile factories deteriorated rapidly, as did real wages. The cost of labor
decreased, since immigrant women were paid less and did not have to be accomodated
in relatively expensive boarding houses, which were designed primarily to protect
the chastity and reputation of native-born American women. The proportion of
gainfully employed immigrant women or their daughters increased steadily until
1910, when reform movements designed not only to improve factory conditions but to
"Americanize" these women began to take effect (Ibid.: 228). Immigrant women,
especially mothers, were encouraged to stay at home to take care of their children
and to regard retirement fiom paid tabor rather ttan jfob advancement as a sign
of i ward mobility (Ib-id-f.: 223). Special concern was voiced over the health of
these women, probably reflecting as in Britain, a concern over the poor quality of
One of e chief outcomes of the reform movement was the initiation of
p-~rt6ctive leislati6n for women. Nothing so symbolized women's dual productive
and reproductive role. As Kessler-Harris (1975: 229) notes, protective legislation
recognizedd that womien had two jobs, one of which had to be limited if the other
Vwe e 6 id- rf6irmd adequately. Yet legislation institutionalized the primary
role of s66iai reproduction by denying that women were full-fledged members of the
wfiing c sl'as..*. Pf6ti tive legislation thus provided a device for dividing work-
ef' &f6fi fbi;r nid& stratifying the work force in a period when homogeneity
in 16isl o 6f kif, irei&66in t i' ad to developing class consciousness and to ...f
giv riif 6 6 s cSf n6fli-t."
.. =. i Biazil, pf6i666iie legislation for women reduced competition with men
by rfe'ddig #i ~ c6n6ii& des-'~iiabiity of female employees (Ibid.: 230). Reduced
E -iipfeiii8 fri w6ii &r EM 6ildren was accompanied and probably contributed to
Tiitni' was #6 iifi; *iih #Ad& it financially easier for many married women to
reaini ho me ihibis iid6 66-tfibited to the establishment of a family wage,
thigh S6ie inifnis wfre 8f fii ~goistic to women. (Ibid.: 224). Humphries
(197~ 9 ~i f d 6& i~ii#.~e tfi way in which both protective legislation and a
fa iily Vi& iS fi r J iipiiied by tkte English working class as a way of reducing the
-tat1 f gpiyi f Fiiaiifiy ; mifrifed women. As in the United States, this was
1e8 6fi6n 8 I tb ewi issus dih WIieh the working class could seek middle-class
Spit8 these o6st es,; Rhiieer, theipercentage of married women in the
''lrfb48 8fE6 A H grease if~Miatically, especially since World War II, and as
4f'tia eh IMP, fr FfS56Hit4 b 8iO &1 working women (U.S. Dept. of Labor 1975:16).
However, the increase has not been uniform in all sectors, or for all age and
ethnic groups. The tremendous growth in clerical jobs in the post-war period
attracted primarily young and childless white women initially, but Ohe demand
gradually absorbed married women with children as well (Ibid.: 13-14). Black
women shifted out of the domestic service category into other types of service
jobs (Ibid.: 105). Older married women without clerical skills were relegated
to marginal industrial jobs like the garment industry. They face less competition
in these poorly paid, marginal industries from younger women, who prefer cleaner,
more well paid clerical jobs. Older women also possess the sewing skills
necessary to compete at the piecework rates on which most garment plants operate.
Because of its marginality, the garment industry has always provided a haven for
newly arrived immigrants, most recently Hispanics, who do not possess the
language and other educational skills needed in clerical and other types of
While the median age of operatives and particularly sewers is higher
nationally than either clerical or service workers (1970 Census of Population,
Vol. I, Part I, Table 226), in the garment plant we studied in New Jersey, certain
special factors contributed to the older age of their female labor force. The
most important factor is that the plant basically has been following a slow
process of attrition, not hiring many workers in production since the 1950's.
However, many female workers who were hired in the 1940's and '50's have stayed
on, so that 71% have been working in the same plant twenty years and more.
Eighty percent of these women are over 40 and over half are married. The remain-
der are almost equally divided between single and formerly married (usually
widowed) women, the majority of whom are over 50. Most of these women live in the
local working-class neighborhood or nearby, the daughters of Italian, Polish, and
other east European workers who were attracted to the job possibilities in manual
labor in this area earlier in the century. Their husbands are also predominantly
factory worker as are their brothers and sisters. They live in a blue-collar
The re on this plant has not hired many workers since the 1950's is that
production has been moving to other areas, first cheaper labor areas within the
U.S. (e.g. West Virginia), then to Puerto Rico in the 1950's, and now to newer
foreign areas like the Dominican Republic. This has become a prevalent trend
in the garment industry in the Northeast, which suffered a 40% decline in jobs
in the 1960-70 decade, a loss which continued at the rate of 12,000 jobs per year
through 1973. (Bureau of Labor Statistics 1975: 104-5). The decline is brought
on primarily by the desire to cut labor costs by moving to areas of lower wages
and non-unionized labor, both in the U.S. and abroad. The "runaway shop'- thus
represents a new strategy for supplying a cheap labor force in advanced
capitalist societies where unions and other factors have helped to drive up labor
costs, and is particularly attractive to labor-intensive industries such as
garment. Rather than importing immigrant labor, the runaway shop "exports jobs."
The women at the New Jersey plant are aware that jobs are being lost and
fear for the security of their own employment, even though the plant is unionized.
One of the chief complaints is that workers are constantly being switched from
one job to another (to replace lost personnel) which slows down their piecework
rate, and hence their wage. One of the brancbs of the factory often closes one
day a week for lack of work, and of course the women are not paid a full wage.
Wages in the garment industry are the lowest of any major industrial group
in the U.S., about $3.00 an hour in 1974 (NACLA 1976: 8). Though wages can be
increased substantially through piecework, almost 40% of the women sampled earn
between $100 and $139 a week, while the highest weekly salaries run to $160 and
over. Though much higher than those of Brazilian women factory workers, wages
are still insufficient to support a family and-barely enough for a single person
to live onf. Over half the families sampled have a total annual income of less
than $10,000. Significantly, the lowest incomes are found among the single and
formerly married (mostly widowed) women in our sample, 40% of whom depend solely
on their own wages. In 68% of these families with a single wage earner, annual
incomes are under $8000. (Table 3) Single women live alone or with a relative
(usually a sister) and often in a home that they have inherited from their
parents and.thus have considerably reduced housing costs. Widows and other
formerly married women either live alone (45%) or with their children (45%),
most of whom contribute to the family income. The highest incomes in this aa
are found in families with two or more wage earners, most of whom are husband
and wife. All but five of the forty married women in our sample have households
with two or more wage earners.
,A\ \.f However, while both husband and wife may work, there is a clear difference
/ from the Brazilian multiple wage-earning family, particularly in the dependence
on cidren. In New Jersey,children do not make a major contribution to
family income because 1) the number of children per family is quite small and
2) children recieve a much higher education, and require longer years of support.
Once they leave school, they tend to marry and have their own families to
The families of these New Jesey women factory workers are much smaller
than in Sao Paulo. Median /." size in New Jersey is approximately 2.5 com-
pared to 5.06 in Sao Paulo; 53% of these households consist of one or two persons.
While it must be recognized that most of these families are at a different
stage of the life cycle, with most children gjbwn and living outside the house-
hold, the total number of children they have had is also much smaller; over
half of the New Jersey women had only one or two children, while in Sao Paulo,
43.3% of our respondents had over five siblings.
This small number of children is all the more striking when compared to the
families in w ich these women were raised, which were much larger: 20% of
these New Je sey women had seven or more siblings, while another 20% had- five to
in. In short, when we compare total number of siblings among older women
factory workers in New Jersey, with the size of families in the younger genera-
tion in Sao Paulo, they begin to look very similar. Clearly there has been a
sharp decline in family size from their parents to their own generation among
our NeweJersey respondents, Thi w-lf
rzligtucn nr o'4~r rll t flr in cr~g fcv both cases,
we are dealing with a predominantly Catholic population; two thirds of the New
Jersey women as compared to 80% of the Sao Paulo women are Catholic.
There appear to be several factors that help explain this drastic reduction
in family size in New Jersey. First, many of these women were bearing children
during the depression, which induced low fertility levels in the U.S. generally.
Secondly, the economic value of American children during this period was reduced
by legislation such as child labor laws and compulsory education (which are also
law in Brazil, but often not implemented). Thirdly, contraceptive technology,
might have been more widespread in the U.S. during the period.these women were
having children (1940-50) than in Brazil today, where income as well as lack of
information serves as a real barrier (Population Council, 1978: 16).
In addition, however, changes in labor demand and the consequent cost of
children in the U.S. may have induced these families to have fewer children. As
increased opportunities for both sexes opened up in the U.S. in white-collar
jobs, requiring higher levels of education, working class families may have
been induced to reduce their number of children in order to give them more
education. There was no longer a need for a large labor pool, as is still prev-
alent in Brazil, but for a smaller number of nore highly skilled workers
prepared to meet the growing demand for administrative as well as skilled
industrial jobs. At the same time, the cessation of large-scale immigration and
the movement of younger women into white-collar jobs opened up marginal jobs in
the garment industry for older, married women who previously might have been
denied employment The additional income provided by the women's employment,
while small, may have helped these families to give their children a higher
education. It is doubtful if they could have managed solely with the husband's
salary, since most men, like their wives, were employed in relatively low-paying
(' J factory jobs.
S The movement out of blue-collar into white-collr jobs can be seen by
comparing the employment of the father and son. (Table 4) Whereas most fathers
(husbands of our respondents) were or are employed in blue-collar jobs, in
families with sons, 55% are employed in white-collar jobs compared to 40% in
S blue-collar or service work. Ihile the sample here is very small and therefore
should be interpreted with a great deal of caution, the trend toward white-collar
employment is unmistakable. The percentage of daughters in white-collar work.
is even higher (70%) probably reflecting the surge in clerical employment among
women. In addition, the degree to which white-collar employment is dependent on
a higher education is shown by the fact that most of the oldest sons and
daughters of these New Jersey working-class families who now hold white-collar
jobs have been to college and sometimes graduate school. (Table 5 and 6).
While it is difficult to'establish a relationship between the mother's
Employment and the children's education with the data collected here, it is
worth noting that in all but a few cases, among the children who went to college
or graduate school, the mothers have been working twenty years and more.
Clearly we are dealing here with a very different survival strategy from
that observed among Brazilian working class women. Families are quite small,
. 7777 - 7 I I,
but both husband and wife work to rror:otc their children's nolility fror' blue-
collar into white-collar work. This reflects the decrezsin. demand for blue-
collar workers in the U.S., particularly a::onn woren, and the tremendous
increase in white-collar ,and particularly clerical rnploy)'ent. It also reflects
incrcasinr educational opportunities in the U.S., rade possible through mass
public education, though not without considerable financial sluport and
sacrifice fror their parents. As Girnenez (1977: 19) points out:
"Only under exceptional circu-stances will the capitalist classes
nake direct investments to up; rade the quality of specific sectors
of the labor force.. .Ordinarily that upradin. is financed by the
workers themselves who, by investing in their own 'human capital'
or by rerocucin- labor pover of quality higher than their own.
through the training and/or education of their offspring, give rise
to the phenomenon of 'social mobility.' It is through the processs
of self-ungradine, into which the working classes and salary earners:-
are forced, that differences in reproductive behavior e;:merge."
Self-up.:raiinr. arong wor!:ers involves a dual burden on the farily- not only
must-they-bear the direct costs: of education (soa"e of which may be absorbed by.
the state), but-.they rust also suffer the loss of their- children's taer which--
would-otherwise have been allocated to the family. Minre-Kalwan (197S) documents
this very well in the case of European peasant families v''o are in a transition
.toward i:aee labor. As the children cease to work on the family farmr and require
more years of education for skilled ware labor, their foregone labor is made ',
ur by the parents, and chiefly the other. She writes:
"Since iuch of the foregone labor of children is labor that
would have been allocated to the family farr which is
continued by others uhen fathers take :wae labor on the
average, the other's labor hours increase more than the
S father's as children's education level increases.' (Iinge-
Kalm~an 1973: 18).
I think a similar argument for a re-allocation of labor at the
household level can be made for urban working-class families. Here how-
ever, we are dealing with older children and young adults, aged 15-25,
whose labor is not appropriated directly by the family but contributed in
the form of wages to the family income. If these young people require
and have the opportunity to obtain a higher education, and cannot work and
contribute to the family income, then the family must compensate for this
loss of wages in some way. The data from New Jersey factory families
would seem to suggest that they may compensate by having women continue
to work past the age of marriage and childbearing, which in turn may induce
the woman to have fewer children. This would then help explain why the
industrial female labor force in Sao Paulo (and Brazil generally) consists
largely of young, unmarried women while in the U.S. there is a much higher
percentage of older married women employed in factory work. The work of
married women in the U.S. helps compensate.for the loss of their children's
wages. The change in the composition of the family wage economy also
helps explain why Brazilian urban working class families continue to have
large families while New Jersey working class families have only a small
number of children.
The limited growth of the modern industrial sector, in a dependendent
capitalist society such as Brazil, where growth is heavily dependent on
foreign technology, capital and markets, inhibits the development of a
mass, skilled labor market such as occurred in the United States or
western Europe during the height of industrial growth. (Safa 1977) In
1972-3, for example, of Sao Paulo's 735,000 employees in the industrial
sector, only 18% were skilled (Sao Paulo 1978: 74), despite the fact that
the city represents the height of Brazilian industrial growth. Thus,
Sao Paulo workers have not the incentive to educate their children for a
more skilled labor market that our New Jersey families had. The continued
existence of a labor surplus also prevents the formal employment of more
marginal sectors of the labor force, such as married women with children,
who only entered the labor force in large numbers in the post-industrial
or monopoly capitalist phase of most advanced industrial societies. Older,
married women were only recruited for and retained in these marginal jobs
when the tremendous surge in clerical employment and prolonged education
exhausted the supply of younger, single women. Thus, it would appear to
be only at a later stage of industrialization, when there is a sharp
reduction in the demand for unskilled workers and an increasing demand
for skilled workers (in administrative and clerical tasks as well as
production), and when there are educational opportunities readily available
to working class families to enable them to acquire these skills, that
there may be a reduction in family size to enable working class families
to invest more in a few children than in the labor of many. Preparing
children for these more skilled jobs requires more family expenditure and
a prolonged period of dependence which in itself may require married
women to work.
While the problem of labor power in Brazil may be similar to other
dependent capitalist economics, it has undoubtedly been made more acute
by the anti-labor policies of the Brazilian military government, which
took power in 1964. Though they did succeed in promoting growth rates
of nearly 10 percent between 1968 and 1972, few of the benefits of this
;boom went to the working class. On-the contrary, in Sao Paulo itself,
frtthe-center of the-boomi they paid for -itin terms of -decl inir g real wages,
t-highlinfast mortality, ima antrition, !lowere life expectancy, an, other
indicators of worsening social conditions. (Wood 1978: 60-61 Sao Paulo
1978). As we have shown, despite the increasing numbers of household
members in the labor force, brought on by the decline in purchasing power,
real family income in Sao Paulo continued to drop between 1958 and 1969
(Ibid.: 59). Though the families studied here are by no means the
worst off in terms of income and other indicators of living standards,
their"succ'ess" appears to depend largely on the maintenance of i multiple
wage-earning strategy (cf. Schmink 1979:9).
*t '. .
;- ''* >
NUMBER OF WORKERS IN HOUSEHOLD BY
FAMILY INCOME IN CRUZIEROS
FAMILY INCOME IN CRUZIEROS
No. of workers
1 to 3 8 14 23 15 60
Workers 13.3 23.3 38.3 25.0. 60.6
66.7 77.8 67.6. 42.9
4 to 7 4 4 10 20 38
Workers 10.5 10.5 26.3 52.6 38.4
33.3 22.2 29.4 57.1
7to 10 0 0 1 0- 1
Workers 0.0 0.0 100.0 0.0 1.0
0.0 0.0 2.9 0.0
** Figures in cells
represm.tN, row percentage, and column percentage
INCOME IN CRUZIEROS BY MARITAL STATUS
Less than 3 9 0 12
3000 Cr. 25.0 75.0 0.0 12.1
20.0 11.1 0.0
3001 to 4 14 0 18
4000 Cr. 22.2 77.8 0.0 18.2
26.7 17.3 0.0
4001 to S 27 2 34
6000 Cr. 14.7 79.4 5.9 34.3
S33.3 33.3 66.7
More than 3 31 1 35
6001 Cr. 8.6 88.6 2.9 35.4
20.0 38.3 33.3
** Figures in cells
represent N, row percentage, and
S -- - .
OCCUPATION OF SON
Blue 4 3 1 8
Collar 50.0 37.5 12.5 40.0
36.4 37.5 100.0
White 1 0 0 1
Collar 100.0 0.0 0.0 5.0
9.1 0.0 0.0
Service 1 1 0 2
Worker 50.0 50,0 0.0 10.0
9.1 12.5 0.0
Not 5 4 0 9
Working 55.6 44.4 0.0 45.0
45.5 50.0 0.0
in cells represent N, row percentage, and
OCCUPATION OF FIRST SON BY FATHER'S
OCCUPATION OF FIRST SON
EDUCATION OF FIRST SON **
OCCUPATION OF FIRST SON
High 3 7 1 11
School -~L 27.3 63.6 9.1 44.0
23.1 63.6 100.0
College 4 -. 4 0 8
50.0 50.0 0.0 32.8
S30.8 36.4 0.0
Graduate 6 0 r 0 6
Work 100.0 0.0 0.0 24.0
46.2 0.0 0.0
** Figures in cells represent N, row percentage,
OCCUPATION OF FIRST DAUGHTER
"EDUCATION'OF FIRST DAUGHTER **
High School Ot
College 9 1'i 1 11
81.8 9.1 9.1 47.8
56.3 16.7 100.0
Graduate 2 0 0 2
Work 100.0 0.0 0.0 8.7
12.5 0.0 0.0
**Figures in cells
represent N, row percentage,
-- ---, ---
1) Because of the small size, the sample does not pretend to be representa-
tive of factory women in either locale. We are more interested in the
relationship between work and other variables in the two cultures.
2) Tilly (1978a: 3) defines the analysis of family strategies as "the
principals which lead to observable regularities or patterns of
behavior among households. It asks who participates in making decisions,
what concerns and constraints impinge on them. It asks who bears the
cost or benefits from strategies in which individual interests or needs
are often subordinated." Tilly (Ibid.) adds that "these strategies have
different effects on individuals, depending on their position and
activities in the family. All households members' imperatives and
choices are shaped by their.position in the family, by the economic
and social structures in which the households is located, and by the
processes of change which these structures are undergoing."
3) In 1976-77, the minimum salary in Brazil was equivalent to U.S. 71
monthly. (Population Council 1978: 15). It is adjusted annually based
on a complicated formula combining productivity and cost of living
4) Most of the married women have been married only a short time (less than
5 years) and only 10 have children.
5) Minimum wages are lower (or non-existent) for minors, which makes them
all the more attractive for unskilled factory jobs. In 1972 in Sao
Paulo 70% of the boys and 49.5% of the girls aged 15-19 were in the labor
force (Sao Paulo 1978: 75).
6) The percentage of women working at home in Sao Paulo in 1972 increased
from 38% at ages 25-29, to 63.4% at ages. 30-39, and continues to increase
through age 69. (Sao Paulo 1978: 75).
7) In Sao Paulo in 1961, 62.9 infants died per 1000 live births compared to
89.5 in 1970 and 95 in 1973. Much of this is attributed to the decline
in the real minimum wage, lack of public services such as water and s
8) Protective legislation in the U.S. initially included regulation of hours
-of work (e.g. no night shifts, limited number of hours), minimum wages,
and sanitary working conditions. It is interesting that minimum wages
for women were established earlier than for men.
9) Because of the wide age differences in our sample and since so few of
our Brazilian respondents are married, we compared the size of the family
in which Brazilian factory workers were raised, with the total number of
children borne by New Jersey factory women.
10) The Population Council: 13) reports that "among children aged 7-10, the
proportion enrolled in school in 1970 was 66.3%, although the first
eight years of schooling are free and "compulsory".
11) Miriam Cohen (1977) documents the way in which the changing employment
structure in New York City during the depression induced Italian
working class families to orient their daughters toward white-collar
work because the future looked better than in factory (largely garment)
labor, resulting as well in a marked increase in educational levels.
For example, by 1950, while only 8% of the first generation of Italian
female workers were employed in clerical labor, 40% of the second
generation were in those occupations. Cohen attributes this not to
embourgeoisement, but as a shift in working-class strategies made
necessary by the city's employment structure. (Ibid.: 135).
12) Although many of the women in our New Jersey sample were hired at an
early age, I would argue they would not have been retained had there
been an ample supply of younger, single women to replace them. In
fact, when production reached its peak in the early 1950's and labor
was in scarce supply, the factory was very lenient with married women,
allowing them unpaid maternity leaves, time off during summer vacations
or when their children became ill, etc.
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