The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Work

Claudia Goldin

NBER Working Paper No. 3203 (Also Reprint No. r1619)
Issued in December 1989
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Labor Studies

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w3203

Published: "The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Employment." From The American Economic Review, Vol. 81, No. 4, pp. 741-756, (September 1991).

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