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

29 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2000 Last revised: 15 Feb 2002

See all articles by Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 1989


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.

Suggested Citation

Goldin, Claudia, The Role of World War Ii in the Rise of Women's Work (December 1989). NBER Working Paper No. w3203. Available at SSRN:

Claudia Goldin (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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