June 2004, Vol. 127, No. 6
Young American women
Book reviews from past issues
Young American women
The American Woman 2003–2004: Daughters of a Revolution—Young Women Today. Edited by Cynthia B. Costello, Vanessa R. Wight, and Anne J. Stone. New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2003, 413 pp., $75/cloth; $24.95/paperback.
This ninth edition of American Woman, of the Women’s Research and Education Institute series, focuses on daughters of the feminist revolution, women between the ages of 25 and 34. Those who would dispute this recent dating of the revolution recall such grandmother pioneers as Betty Friedan or Simone de Beauvoir. Even great-grandmothers, those of the 1921 success in achieving the vote, might question this omission of their struggle.
The "baby-boomer" claim, however, is substantiated by the impressive marshaling of Current Population Survey and other statistics that establish women’s place in the current workforce. Marisa DiNatale and Stephanie Boraas describe a changed employment landscape that finds three-quarters of the women’s age group between 25 and 34 in the labor force, compared to a little more than half their number in 1975. The commitment of young women to the world of work outside the home is further substantiated by their statistics on women’s educational preparation for careers, resulting in a narrowing earnings gap between men and women, and the growing labor force participation of women with young children.
The dilemma faced by many daughters is the competition of their career preparation for the very years that a woman by nature is most able to bear children. Subtly, by allowing a mother and daughter of Hispanic background to speak for themselves, Cynthia Costello exposes the costs exacted by today’s wider occupational choice. Having selected "minority" women who, as the statistical evidence reveals, are more typical of today’s workforce than that of a generation ago, Costello illustrates some losses facing modern women. The mother in this family has worked steadily at an outside job, but her children were fully cared for by relatives. The picture is not one of hardship, but rather that of a mother who enjoyed working at a paid job but one that required little advanced preparation and no sacrifice of her children’s well-being. The daughter’s career will impose the responsibility of her making a decision to move away from her social and geographic community for further education and, when she marries, a further decision with her husband about having children and when to have them. The statistics show women marrying later and having their first child at a later age than their mothers.
Implied in some of the collection’s critical argument is lack of community support for enabling women with children to establish themselves in careers. Chapters on elected officials show that the women’s caucus in the Congress has been effective in alleviating such barriers to women’s full participation in the American economy as discrimination and sexual harassment. There are, however, fewer women elected officials than might be expected from the fact that women are a voting majority. Perhaps this dearth of women legislators accounts for the slower change in policy landscape compared with that in employment. Quality childcare provision and extended maternity leave are not so easily available in the United States as in countries where women’s paid work outside the home is accepted as commonplace. As is obvious in the above case of Hispanic women, reliance on family support for childcare may limit occupational opportunities for young women and may account in part for the number of young working women who are poor. Lani Luciano’s article observes that in the 25–34 year-old age group, about 13 percent of the women are poor with an additional 4.4 percent ‘near poor.’
It is to be noted that, despite substantial gains in equal opportunity, there is one profession that remains legally restricted in employing women: the military. Its increasing importance as an employer could well result in limiting opportunities for women, especially among minorities who account for about half the Defense Department’s enlisted women.
Many challenges face this generation of women, but this collection of articles shows a vastly changed and improved world for working women. The collection of six articles by experts on each topic is arranged around a narrative presentation supported by substantial statistical evidence for the analyses. Space does not allow comment on each topic here. Suffice it to state that the authors have indeed provided a richly well organized information source for policymakers and for all serious students of today’s workforce.
—Solidelle Fortier Wasser
Bureau of Labor Statistics,
New York region
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers