The joining of the two words "career" and "family" into a single term came about in the last quarter of the 20th century as a more complete image of the worker emerged. Workers are now seen as being neither separate from family at work, nor separate from work when with the family. The joining of the two words reflects the social recognition that the worlds of work and family overlap, influence one another greatly, and policies that affect one, affect the other.

Before the Industrial Revolution, "work" was done in the home or out of the home in a seamless relationship with family life. Often sons (and even daughters) took up the career or work of their parents. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, workers were obliged to leave traditional family businesses and work for industrial concerns, and work became separate from family life. Careers, work in which one gained personal fulfillment as well as financial stability, were restricted to a few professions.

The family unit usually refers to husband/father, wife/mother, and their natural and adopted children. The use of the word "career" and the words "job" or "work" are generally interchangeable today. The word career, however, implies a commitment to one's job that goes beyond the earning of money and connotes a work atmosphere that provides satisfaction and is a source of self-esteem. The U.S. Department of Labor reports on many aspects of career and family, using the term "work and family," to avoid the normative implications of the word career.

Before the mid-20th century women worked primarily within the home. In 1900, for example, women made up less than 20 percent of the national work-force. If a woman did have a job outside of the home, she usually stopped working when she became married and/or had children. Especially in the early years of a child's life, a mother's job was seen as being in the home while the father was expected to continue working outside of the home. Variations in this pattern came when a father's income was not sufficient to support the family without the mother also working outside of the home. Women whose husbands were not present in the home or whose husbands had died also found it necessary to work outside of the home. Although few married women worked outside of the home, many women were responsible for the production of the family's staples, and some women took in piecework that contributed to the family income.

Through the early part of the 20th century many children also worked to support the family, often leaving school at an early age or not attending at all. During the time when the United States was largely rural, this usually meant that children helped on the family farm. But as the early 20th century brought more and more people from farms and from distant shores into America's cities, child labor increasingly included children working in factories or mines. Child labor laws were passed in the early 20th century to promote the sending of children to school rather than into the workplace.

During World War II many men left their jobs and went to serve in the military, and women were encouraged to enter the workforce. When the war ended and the men returned, women were forced out of their jobs and back into the home, in keeping with traditional attitudes.

After World War II, higher education became open to more people and many chose to delay entering the workforce and continue their schooling instead. Many who went on to college believed that university training did not prepare one just for a job, but for a career. In the fifties and early sixties more and more women continued their education and then entered the workplace. Between 1948 and 1995, the number of women participating in the national labor force rose from 32.7 percent to 58.9 percent.

At first the workplace reacted by not allowing women to attain management positions and by implementing policies that made it difficult for women to remain in the workforce after marriage. Antinepotism policies, for instance, did not permit married couples to work for the same firm. But as more and more women, married and unmarried, entered the workplace, first the legal and then the corporate and cultural taboos against women in the workplace began to fall. Beginning in the 1960s, federal legal standards demanded equal treatment and equal pay for men and women of all races. The law mandated that there be no discrimination in hiring. Despite these gains, women's pay to this day remains lower than that of men occupying similar positions.

Another factor that entered the equation was the ability of women to hold nontraditional and managerial jobs that had once been the preserve of men. Once women established their right to enter and remain in the workplace in jobs of their choice, they began to do just that. Nevertheless, while women comprised nearly 49 percent of the national workforce in 1996, more than 97 percent of senior management positions were held by men. In the sixties and seventies, women often interrupted their careers when children were born, sometimes waiting until their children started school before reentering the workforce. Some mothers abandoned their careers altogether. This trend began to shift in the 1970s, when more women with young children chose to remain in the workforce. By 1996 an estimated 75 percent of women who had children returned to their jobs within 12 weeks of giving birth.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that women will account for 62 percent of a projected 26 million person increase in the civilian workforce between 1990 and 2005. Even more startling will be the number of women who will be working while their children are still young. Although many mothers have the option of job sharing, flextime, telecommuting, or working part-time, the U.S. Department of Labor predicted in June 1994 that married mothers in the 1990s were more than twice as likely to work full time than were their counterparts in the 1970s. U.S. Department of Labor statistics revealed that in 1996,67 percent of women with children under the age of 18 were either working or actively seeking employment. In keeping with tradition, 44 percent of employed women continued to state that they worked out of necessity to help the family meet its expenses, while only 23 percent worked for career satisfaction alone. In any case, the large and growing number of women in the workplace impelled a reevaluation of the role of outside the-family child care and its relationship to the workplace. The role of the wife/mother as caretaker for elderly family members also underwent a change in the latter quarter of the 20th century. With the wife/mother working outside of the home the question of who would care for the elderly arose. The corporate culture began to look for new ways to promote the family and meet the new demands for inclusion of women in the workplace. The issues of child care, elder care, family leave for the care of ill family members, and leave for maternity and adoption became paramount in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and were instrumental in the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).

The FMLA allows entitled employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. Congress's purpose in passing the FMLA was, according to the bill itself, to allow people to have a healthier balance between family obligations and their work lives, and to ensure that family development and cohesiveness are encouraged by our nation's public policy. Although the FMLA met with considerable resistance from business prior to its adoption, the law has proven effective and inexpensive to implement. A 1993 Congressional survey revealed that 90 percent of U.S. companies reported no or minimal increases in production costs due to implementation of the provisions of the act. Legal interpretation of the act has proven more problematic. For instance, employees whose performance is rated less than satisfactory may not be guaranteed their old position following leave under the provisions of the act. Furthermore, the act specifies that an employee must have a "serious health condition" to become entitled to protected leave, and the formulation of an exact legal definition of this term has created contradictory legal precedents and is still subject to further clarification.

Slowly the workplace has begun to respond. The U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau has conducted a number of studies on the issues of women in the workplace and on the impact of work on the family. The workplace has responded by devising more flexible policies that allow men and women to better meet the demands of home and family.

Some women found that they could not balance the needs of their families and the demands of their careers within the confines of a traditional work arrangement and schedule, so they often left their jobs. Rather than continue to lose the expertise of their women workers, companies began to change their policies and procedures. Many companies now sponsor or help their workers find day care and offer flexible work arrangements for either parent. The U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau publishes resources for managers and women on implementing and executing workplace policies that promote the goals of both career and family simultaneously.

In Best Companies for Women, Baila Zeitz and Lorraine Dusky reported that, in 1980, 17 percent of all companies surveyed did not allow couples to work in the same company; by 1986 that figure had fallen to 2 percent. Surveys by Zeitz in 1980-81 and 1986-87 showed a significant increase in the number of companies that offered flexible working hours, maternity care, on-site child care, referrals for child care, and part time work for professional employees. For instance, in 1980-81 only 37 percent of the companies surveyed had flexible work hours, but by 1986-87 that number had risen to 59 percent.

SEE ALSO : Women in Business

[ Joan Leotta ,

updated by Grant Eldridge ]


Albeda, Randy. 'Improving Women's Employment in the USA." Industrial Relations Journal 28, no. 4 (December 1997): 275.

Brazelton, T. Berry. Working and Caring. New York: Addison Wesley, 1983.

Fisher, Mary Anne. "Family Leave Act Has Proven Successful: Report." National Underwriter Life and Health Financial Services Edition, 20 May 1996, 34.

Friedman, Dana, and Ellen Galinsky. Work and Family Trends. New York: Families and Work Institute, 1991.

Gini, Al. "Women in the Workplace." Business and Society Review 99 (fall 1996): 3.

Hayghe, Howard V., and Suzanne M. Bianchi. "Married Mothers' Work Patterns: The Job-Family Compromise." Monthly Labor Review, June 1994, 244.

Scharlach, A., and others. Eldercare and the Work Force: Blue-print for Action. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1991.

Zal, Milton. "Family and Medical Leave: The Courts Step In." Executive Female 20, no. 4 (July-August 1997): 58.

Zeitz, Baila, and Lorraine Dusky. The Best Companies for Women. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Other articles you might like:

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: