U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS ADMINISTRATION
Washington, D.C. 20210
WHY WOMEN WORK
Despite unfavorable economic conditions in the first quarter of
1975, an average of nearly 37 million women were in the labor force
(working or looking for work) during the year. Of this number, almost
33.6 million were actually employed. During the decade 1965 to 1975,
some 14 million additional jobs were developed in new or expanding
industries. These new jobs have provided employment opportunities for-
more than 9 million women and nearly 5 million men.
Women work for the same reasons men do--most importantly, to pro-
vide for the welfare of themselves, their families, or others. This
was true of most of the 8.5 million women workers who were never
married. Nearly all of the 6.9 million women workers who were widowed,
divorced, or separated from their husbands--particularly the women who
were raising children--were working for compelling economic reasons.
In addition, the 3.1 million married women workers whose husbands had
incomes below $5,000 in 1974 almost certainly worked because of economic
need. Finally, about 2.2 million women would be added if we take into
account those women whose husbands had incomes between $5,000 and
$7,000.1/ Forty-three percent of women workers had husbands whose
incomes were $7,000 or more.
Among the 4.7 million women of minority races who were workers in
March 1975, slightly more than half (54 percent) were never married,
widowed, divorced, or separated from their husbands; about one-tenth
(11 percent) were wives whose husbands had 1974 incomes below $5,000.
In fact, only 1 out of 4 minority women workers was a wife whose hus-
band had an income of $7,000 or more.
1/ The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate for a low standard of
living for an urban family of four was $9,838 in autumn 1975. This
estimate is for a family consisting of an employed husband aged 38, a
wife not employed outside the home, an 8-year-old girl, and a 13-year-
The marital status of women workers in March 1975 was as follows:
Married (husband present)
Husband's 1974 income:
$10,000 and over
Other marital status
Married (husband absent)
Women heads of families.--Of the 55.7
million families in March 1975,
7.2 million were headed by women. About 3.9 million, or 54 percent, of
the women family heads were in the labor force, and nearly two-thirds of
these women workers were the only earners in their families. About 1 out
of 10 women workers was head of a family. Among the 2.0 million minority
women heading families in March 1975, about half were workers. More than
1 out of 5 women workers of minority races headed a family.
Nearly one-third of the families headed by women had incomes below
the poverty level in 1974.2/ This was true for more than half of all
minority families headed by women. For those families headed by women
who worked during 1974, however, about 1 out of 5 (2 out of 5 minority
families) had an income below the poverty level. Among families headed
by women who worked the year round at full time jobs, 8 percent (15 per-
cent of minority families) were poor in 1974.
Mothers with husbands present.--Of th6 21.1 million married women
(husband present) who were in the labor force in March 1975, 11.4 million
had children under 18 years of age. About 2.2 million of these mothers
were working to supplement the low incomes of their husbands. Included
2/ The low-income or poverty level is based on the Social Security
Administration's poverty thresholds, adjusted annually in accordance with
the Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index. Classified as poor in
1974 were those nonfarm households where total money income was less than
$2,495 for an unrelated individual; $3,211 for a couple; and $5,038 for a
family of four. (The poverty level for farm families is set at 85 percent
of the corresponding level for nonfarm families.)
were 517,000 mothers whose husbands had 1974 incomes below $3,000;
651,000 whose husbands had incomes between $3,000 and $5,000; and 1
million whose husbands had incomes between $5,000 and $7,000.
Among the 1.4 million minority women who were working wives and
mothers in March 1975, about 500,000 had husbands whose 1974 incomes were
below $7,000. Of these mothers, 105,000 had husbands with incomes below
$3,000; 149,000 had husbands with incomes from $3,000 to $5,000; and
229,000 had husbands with incomes between $5,000 and $7,000.
Wives whose husbands are unemployed or unable to work.--In the 46.1
million husband-wife families, there were 2.3 million husbands (some
315,000 minority husbands) who were unemployed in March 1975, although
they were in the labor force and actively looking for work; 7.9 million
husbands (nearly 736,000 minority husbands) were not in the labor force.
Some 1.2 million wives of unemployed husbands and 1.7 million wives
whose husbands were not in the labor force were working or seeking work.
Many of these women were the sole support of their families.
Women whose husbands are employed in low-wage occupations.--In
March 1975 there were 562,000 married working women whose husbands were
farm workers; another 728,000 had husbands who were nonfarm laborers;
and 1.1 million had husbands employed in service occupations. The median
wage or salary income of men in these occupations was low in 1974--$2,940
for farm laborers and supervisors; $2,368 for farmers and farm managers;
$5,406 for nonfarm laborers; and $5,695 for service workers (except pri-
Note.--Figures are from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of
the Census, and U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Data for minority races refer to all races other than white. Negroes
constitute about 90 percent of persons other than white in the United
States. Spanish-origin persons are generally included in the white popu-
lation--about 93 percent of the Spanish-origin population is white.
July 1976 (revised) 3 -
S. Department of Labor
ployment Standards Administration
Washington, D.C. 20210
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Elsa M. Chaney
Dept. of Political Science
Bronx, NY 10458