When these stories come out, I have to laugh. Because women on the working-class end of the economic spectrum have had to work for a very long time. Pay raises haven't get pace with the cost of living, to the point where paychecks aren't worth what they were in the 70s. Women stepped in to pick up the slack.
No, what the Wall St. Journal means is that the sort of women who are married to the men who read the Journal have to work now. (It's a class thing!) But some things remain the same: Women still get paid less.
The composition of the nation's work force is approaching an unprecedented benchmark. Due in part to deep layoffs of men, women are poised to become the majority of workers for the first time. As of September, women held 49.9% of the nation's jobs, excluding farm workers and the self-employed, a rise of 1.2 percentage points from their 48.7% share when the recession began in December 2007. In 1970, women held 35% of jobs.
Deep cuts in male-heavy sectors like construction and manufacturing have left unemployment for men age 16 and over at 11.4% as of October -- a quarter-century high. Joblessness among women is lower, at 8.8%, as employment in female-heavy sectors like education and health care has remained steadier.
There is evidence that women's growing representation in the labor force stems not only from men losing their jobs but from women who previously didn't work seeking employment. Since the recession began, the number of women age 16 and over in the labor force -- which includes both the employed and those who are looking for work -- has expanded by 300,000 to 71.7 million. Meanwhile, the number of men working or seeking work has dropped by 123,000 to 82.28 million, according to the Department of Labor.
"I think we are at a pivotal moment," said Arlie Hochschild, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written several books on work-life balance. For many households, it used to be that "she worked because she wanted to," said Ms. Hochschild. "Now, she's working because she has to."
Despite households' increasing reliance on the female paycheck, women still earn markedly less than men.
Women are either the sole earner or make as much as or more than their male spouses in four out of 10 U.S. families with children under 18, said Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. Yet the median earnings of full-time working women in 2008, the first year of the recession, fell by 1.9% to $35,745, while earnings for men declined 1% to $46,367, according to the Commerce Department.