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January 7, 2010
By Jodie Allen, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
"We Did It!" enthuses the Economist magazine, whose recent cover featured the iconic figure of World War II's Rosie the Riveter. The cause for celebration, as described in the magazine's "leader," (editorial in Americanese) is the ascent of womanhood to a majority position in the U.S. workforce, projected to occur sometime in the next few months. "Women's economic empowerment is arguably the biggest social change of our times ... Millions of women have been given more control over their own lives. And millions of brains have been put to more productive use," write the editors.
A national poll conducted last spring by the Pew Research Center finds plenty of support for the female ascendancy: Only a small minority of Americans (19 percent) now think women should return to their traditional roles in society. And according to a separate survey by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project, a mere 15 percent of the public now says that insufficient toughness on their part accounts for the scarcity of women in top business positions (though the persistence of an "old boys network" remains a retardant, according to the public).
As a woman who came of age at a time when her mother (herself a pioneering law school graduate) counseled her to start off work life by taking the federal civil service exam "because they can't weed out high scorers," I can only join in the Economist's applause. But how do most of today's Rosie Riveters feel about being "put to more productive use?"
In a word, ambivalent. A 2009 Pew Research poll found, for example, that a substantial majority of all working mothers (62 percent) say they would prefer to work part time. Only 37 percent would prefer to work full time. By contrast, an overwhelming majority (79 percent) of working fathers say they prefer full-time work. Only 1 in 5 would prefer part-time employment.