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Women at Work.

Women at Work The changing role of women in American society is strongly reflected in their increased labor force participation. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that labor participation grew 41 percent for women from 1966 to 1988. From 1976 to 1985, the participation rate has grown by 56 percent among women between ages 18 and 44 with a child under 12 months old. Two recent books, Women's Quest for Economic Equality, by Victor Fuchs, and Women at Work, edited by Rosalind Schwartz, use these labor force statistics as a basis for discussions of current workplace conditions, and the need for change. The first book is a treatise on how far women have progressed, and how much further they have to go. The second book is a collection of research papers addressing the changing roles and expertise of women in the workplace. For increasing numbers of women, the workplace has become a great source of satisfaction but also a source of problems and challenges.

Current concerns for working women are debated in each book. In many cases, the topics mirror those currently receiving national attention, through legislation and lobbying efforts. These topics include: occupational segregation, wage gaps, difficulty in promoting to management positions, unequal responsibility for the household, child care, and time off from work for new parents. Employer-provided benefits for new parents, such as worksite child care centers, are still in their infancy. Adequate social policy provisions are lacking to meet these specific needs. Victor Fuchs asks, "What can be done?" and suggests that certain family-oriented policies can be adopted by employers to meet these needs.

Fuchs' book describes how the extraordinary changes in gender roles have had a profound effect on American society over the last quarter century. He explains that the relatively weaker economic position of women results primarily from conflicts between career and family. These conflicts are much stronger in women than in men. On average, women have stronger desires for children than men, and have greater concerns for the welfare of children after they are born. This creates an economic disadvantage for women. Fuchs mentions that even though women have increased their income, they have less leisure time than men do; the lower marriage rate has made more women dependent on their own income; similarly, women have become more financially responsible for their children. It has been argued that decisions made by men and women with regard to work, marriage, fertility, and children affect the entire society. Fuchs contends that women bear the greatest portion of the work-family burden, and he advocates a strong affirmative action program in the labor market to counteract this imbalance.

Fuchs' book describes and analyzes four possible scenarios for future society in light of the current roles of women, and their quest for economic equality. These scenarios are: a return to the traditional gender roles that prevailed prior to the 1960's; a return to a split society that is deeply divided between a religious (traditional) minority and secular (egalitarian) majority; an egalitarian stable role where men and women seek equal roles at work and at home; and continued role of a persistent disequalibrium where gains for women continue to be offset by losses. He argues that no specific scenario would exist exclusively and concludes that future society may be a blend of all the elements given in the four scenarios, while women continue to strive for equal roles at work and at home.

Women at Work is a collection of research papers organized into four major sections. Section one looks at the changing structure of employment, including more flexibility and choice, and discusses the implications of these changes for women. Section two, "Women as Professionals," focuses on the allocation of work to this unique group of female workers. In the next section, three articles provide an analytical study of the combined role of women at home and at work, its effect on their mental health, and potential welfare policies for a flexible and less stressful environment for working women. The final section examines the health of working women, especially those of childbearing age, and considers the implications for public policy.

Susan Christopherson's article on "labor flexibility," the opening essay in Women at Work, explores the nature of the contingent work force (part-time, temporary, and contract workers). Through the use of contingent workers, Christopherson argues, firms can often avoid the responsibilities of providing benefits for working parents. The contingent worker, on the other hand, has more flexible time at her disposal to adapt to different strategies to maximize income. During the 1980's, the thriving contingent work force, which is estimated at about 30 million people, has played an important role in responding to the business climate, according to Christopherson. For the vast majority of women, especially minority women, this work has helped bring about flexibility and freedom. Unfortunately, such advantages come with a cost, as contingent work does not guarantee basic benefits, good wages, or a clear-cut career path. The author calls for new labor market theories to fit the realities of the 1980's. Her article urges employers to offer more flexible work hours, shared jobs, part-time jobs, and flexitime to fit the needs of working women.

In the fourth section of Women at Work, Susan Gardin's article, "Physical activity on the job: effects of birth outcomes and implications for the public policy," reviews research on the topic conducted in the United States and Europe. The results of her analysis of the relationship between pregnant working women and the low birth rate are inconclusive; there is insufficient evidence to support a call for mandatory parental leave policies to be implemented by employers. Her article cites numerous world studies and hypothesizes that the United States is not yet ready to establish a comprehensive parental leave policy. Such a leave policy would be dependent upon a variety of socio-economic and cultural factors, and would represent social opinion about the importance of motherhood, children, and the bonding of parent and child. Current U.S. policy suggests that "motherhood" and maternity support are not popular concepts, according to the article.

Both books address common issues: working women, role relations, and public policy implications. Fuchs' book provides fewer details on research methodology, while Women at Work emphasizes methodology and empirical evidence. The information provided in these books is relevant, factual, and of human interest; both have used a multidisciplinary approach in studying women's changing behavior. The books complement each other. Work/family issues, such as parental leave and child care, have received considerable attention recently, including congressional debate, and will likely remain on the public agenda as women continue to increase their participation in the labor force. These books will help in defining women's concerns to policymakers, especially those charged with developing employer-provided benefits.

Rita S. Jain Division of Occupational Pay and Employee Benefit Levels Bureau of Labor Statistics
COPYRIGHT 1989 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jain, Rita S.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:Women's Quest for Economic Equality.
Next Article:Occupational change: pursuing a different kind of work.

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