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[Excerpt] When the President’s Commission on the Status of Women published its report American Women in 1963, there was much to be celebrated with regards to women’s status in the United States. Women were living longer than ever and more of them were a part of the labor force than at most times in recent history. The civil rights movement had placed equal opportunity as the ideal in the workplace, at home, and in all facets of life. Yet in the workforce, women had a long way to go. Many jobs were essentially off-limits to women, including doctor, lawyer, and many types of businesses. While a few remarkable women pursued these fields, the majority of women worked as teachers, nurses, maids or secretaries.

Fifty years later, women’s gains are considerable. More women are a part of our labor force than in 1963, and women are more likely to be the primary breadwinner for their families than they were then. Women are matriculating from higher education in larger numbers than their male peers. Many goals outlined in American Women have been achieved. But the more things change the more they also stay the same. This paper will examine women’s participation in the labor force, then and now, and illuminate lingering gender disparities that persist from day one for female workers. Specifically, a persistent concern is that women begin their careers nearly on par with their male counterparts in wages, but fall behind their male colleagues in mid- to late- career. This fact has not changed substantially since 1963, even though postsecondary educational gains have helped women narrow the wage gap. There is much left to be done to ensure the promise of the 1963 report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

This paper begins with a brief study of the changing landscape of education and training and its impact on women’s work. Next, the paper explores women in the workplace and persistent challenges they face. In addition, the paper examines women and their support for their families as wage earners. The paper concludes with an assessment of policy priorities to help achieve many of the goals set forth in the original American Women report.


Suggested Citation
Maatz, L., & Hedgepath, A. (2014). Women and work: 50 years of change since the American Women report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor.