Date of Award

Winter 1981

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The focus of this dissertation is the transition of American women's economic positions during the last two centuries. Women's participation in the economy has developed from that of the preindustrial period, in which women were primarily partners in an agricultural economy, through several stages during the development of industrialism and urbanism, when most women were housewives, to the present situation in which over 50% of women are active participants in the labor force of an advanced industrial economy. This transition has been characterized not just by increasing numbers and changing characteristics of women participating in the work force, but by interrelationships between this participation and the social and economic forces of a dynamic social system.

Historical and survey analyses are combined in this dissertation in order to detail the social and economic processes to which women have been subjected up to the present. In keeping with this dynamic orientation, a systems analysis of relationships between change in women's participation in the labor force and major social, political, and economic events and ideologies of the last two centuries is presented. In addition, the dissertation includes examination of the attitudes and feelings of contemporary employed women and housewives, in order to reach conclusions on the present condition of women in America. A contemporary assessment of the relationships between the work experience and women's attitudes and feelings is made by comparing characteristics of women who work and women who keep house, using the 1978 NORC GSS data.

Three main sets of relationships are examined: between background variables and women's work participation; between women's background characteristics and their sex role and political attitudes and alienation, with and without controlling for work participation; and between the social class (both objectively and subjectively defined) of working women and their sex role and political attitudes and alienation. It is found that women's work participation is related to many demographic charcteristics. It is also shown that differences in women's attitudes concerning active participation by females in the political and economic systems, in their attitudes related to many socio-political issues, and in their alienation, are related to their own participation in the employment sector and to certain other social characteristics.