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February 2007, Vol. 130, No. 2
A black community with advanced labor force characteristics in 1960
Ruth B. McKay
An American community in which 80 percent of women are college educated, work in the professions, delay marriage and childbearing until their late twenties, and return to work within a few years of childbirth would not seem remarkable in 2007. By contrast, a community with these characteristics in 1960 would have appeared "off the charts" to sociologists and labor economists alike. Yet, these demographic characteristics were observed in an upper middle-class African-American community in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1960.
Information on this community was collected as part of a large-scale University of Maryland Medical School study of social class, socialization patterns, and personality development in Baltimore’s African-American community between September 1960 and June 1962.1 Detailed analyses of the social, cultural, and childrearing patterns of the community have appeared in previous publications.2, 3, 4
This article focuses on the distinctive labor force characteristics of the women in the aforesaid community. Using statistical data from a number of governmental and academic sources, the article compares the changes in education, employment, occupation, and earnings of U.S. women—especially middle-class white women—over the past four decades with the 1960 profile of the Baltimore women. The effects of the changing labor force characteristics of mainstream women on their household roles, fertility patterns, and children’s gender role socialization also will be considered in light of the Baltimore findings.
The 1960 study collected demographic information from 169 families in the Baltimore chapter of Lads and Lassies,5 a prestigious national black family and children’s organization. Twenty-five of these families that had 5-year-old children were recruited for an Intensive Study Sample. Information on the children’s socialization within the family setting came from standardized observations of the children in the home, as well as from the children’s autobiographical stories and drawings. Information on the mothers’ childrearing practices came from parent interviews using the Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (SML) questionnaire developed for a Harvard study of white Massachusetts mothers in the 1950s.6 The two sets of information allowed for a comparison of socialization practices within the two communities.
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1 See Eugene B. Brody, "Cultural Exclusion, Character and Illness," American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 122, no. 8 (1966), pp. 852–58.
2 Ruth Blumenfeld, Children of Integration, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1965.
3 Ruth B. McKay, "Relations of Urban Afro-American Elite and White Communities, 1890–1970," in Perspectives on Contemporary African and Afro-American Development, Occasional Publications No. 1, Afro-American Studies Program (Nashville, Vanderbilt University, 1975), pp. 15–24.
4 Ruth B. McKay, "One-Child Families and Atypical Sex Ratios in an Elite Black Community," in Robert Staples, ed., The Black Family: Essays and Studies, 2d ed. (Belmont, Wadsworth Publishing Corp., CA 1978), pp. 177–81.
5 "Lads and Lassies" is a fictitious name for this organization, which had chapters in more than 20 U.S. cities in 1960.
6 Robert R. Sears, Eleanor Maccoby, and Harry Levin, Patterns of Child Rearing (Evanston, IL, Row, Peterson & Co., 1957).
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