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View related content: Race and Gender
This week Maria Shriver will star in an NBC media extravaganza about
women in today’s economy. In an interview with MSNBC previewing “The
Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” Shriver explained
her interest, saying that her uncle John F. Kennedy had commissioned a
study on women’s status half a century ago (which Eleanor Roosevelt
chaired until her death), and she decided to update it.
In presenting the commission’s final reports in 1963, President
Kennedy said “[W]e have an obligation to the skilled, the trained, the
unusual women…[the] thousands of women getting out of college…to
make full use of their powers.”
The nation had a long way to go. A few years after the president’s
report, a Gallup poll reporter that 55% of those polled approved of a
married woman earning money in business or industry if she has a
husband capable of supporting her, but 40% still disapproved. A sea
change in attitudes and in the preparations young women would make for
the new world was in the offing.
In 1968 when the National Longitudinal Study of Youth asked young
women whether they expected to be working at age 35, 28% of young white
women said they did. But by the time they hit age 35, slightly more
than 70% of them were in the workforce. In another National
Longitudinal Study series from 1979, 72% of young women expected to be
working at age 35. Within a short time, women’s expectations about what
their futures would hold changed dramatically, and they began to
prepare themselves differently. Today the educational goals of the
granddaughters of feminism today are ambitious and reflect the
preparation they are making. In UCLA’s data, more young women entering
college in 2008 expected to get a master’s degree (43%) or an advanced
professional degree (33%) than said they planned to only get a
Attitudes about careers and workplaces themselves have changed, too.
Seventy-five percent of those polled in a 2009 Pew survey disagreed
with the idea that women should return to their traditional roles in
society. Most adult women say they face very little discrimination
where they work. But women with the same level of workplace experience
and education make just about what men make. Since 2001, when Gallup
began asking a long battery of questions on satisfaction with various
aspects of life in the United States, robust majorities answered that
they are satisfied with the position of women in American life. Most
women still reject the feminist label, and the debates from the 1960s
and 1970s seem irrelevant to younger women. Less than a third of women
in any major survey since the question was first asked in 1989 say they
Yet, there are challenges. Women still do most of the housework, but
they are doing less of it than their mothers did, and now men are doing
more. Polls show that the division of housework is only a minor
irritant in most households. The nation supports a woman’s decision to
work or stay home. Most working mothers these days (62% in a 2009 Pew
survey) say if they could do it, they would prefer to work part time.
President Kennedy said his administration was concerned about “what
arrangements we can make for [working women], so they can maintain
themselves, their homes, their husbands, their children” and about
creating “institutions and structures” to make it easier for them “to
fulfill their responsibilities to their children but also permit them
to use their powers and to develop their talents.”
Those concerns are still front and center, and women and men worry
that too many children are being raised in day care centers. In this
recession, when many men are losing jobs and more women are becoming
sole breadwinners, there are new difficulties. Whether the Shriver
Report, done in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, can
be more than talk, remains to be seen.
Are you hopeful it will?
Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI.
This week Maria Shriver will star in an NBC media extravaganza about women in today’s economy.
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