JESSE POWELL writes:
A survey was conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion in 1938 asking Americans if they supported married women working when their husbands were capable of supporting them. A resounding 78 percent said, “No.”
This shows that even after 50 years of married women increasingly joining the workforce and after heavy industrialization of America, public sentiment was still strongly opposed to married women working if they weren’t forced to by economic necessity. The number one reason respondents gave for their negative answers was: women would take jobs away from men and families would suffer as a result.
An article about the survey appeared in The New York Times on December 25, 1938. Here is an excerpt from the piece:
Survey Shows 78% Opposed To Wives in Pin-Money Jobs
With more and more women seeking jobs in business and industry, one of America’s most debated individuals in 1939 may be the married woman who holds onto her job in order to increase the family income. Is she right or isn’t she?
That question is one that seldom makes the headlines but which is being discussed by economists, sociologists and – most of all, probably – by ordinary Americans in all walks of life. While few would object to a married woman working when the support of her family depends on it, a cross-section survey conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion indicates strong opposition to married women working when their husbands are capable of supporting them.
Men are more critical of women who hold jobs in this way than women are, but even women themselves are strongly in favor of the dictum: “A married woman shouldn’t keep her job if her husband can provide.” In almost identical words, voter after voter makes that statement in the institute’s investigation.
Men and women in all parts of the country were asked: “Do you approve of a married woman earning money in business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her?”
The vote is: Yes, 22 per cent; No, 78 per cent.
By-Product of the Depression
Much of the hostility to married women holding jobs, the survey shows, is directly traceable to the depression, with its resulting unemployment for millions of men.
The most frequent comments of voters in the institute survey are: “There aren’t enough jobs for married men” and “Married women who work when they don’t have to are just taking bread out of the mouths of others.”