The Meaning of College in the Lives of American Women: the Past One-Hundred Years
52 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2004 Last revised: 15 Sep 2010
Date Written: June 1992
Three cohorts of college women are considered here. The first, graduating from 1900 to 1920, was faced with a choice of "family or career,? while the second, graduating from 1945 to the early 1960s, opted for family and employment serially - that is, "family then job." The third, graduating since 1980 in a climate of greater gender equality, is attempting both "family and career, " with mixed results and considerable frustration. This paper assesses the reasons for the changing set of tradeoffs each generation of college women faced and why the college education of women expanded in the post-World War II era. The first cohort attended college when the numbers of men and women in college were about equal, while the second attended college when the proportion of all undergraduates who were male was at an all-time high. Only half of the return to college for the second cohort came in the form of their B.A. degrees, while the other half came from their Mrs. degrees. Ironically, because the total return to college -- from the B.A. and Mrs. degrees -- was quite high, enrollments of women expanded rapidly and eventually gave rise to a demand for greater gender equality in the labor market and society.
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