Digital History

America in Ferment: The Tumultuous 1960s

Impact of the Women's Liberation Movement Previous Next
Digital History ID 3346



Since 1960, women have made enormous social gains. Gains in employment have been particularly impressive. During the 1970s, the number of working women climbed 42 percent, and much of the increase was in what traditionally was considered "men's" work and professional work. The percentage of lawyers who were women increased by 9 percent, professors by 6 percent, and doctors by 3.6 percent. By 1986, women comprised 15 percent of the nation's lawyers, 40 percent of all computer programmers, and 29 percent of the country's managers and administrators.

Striking gains have been made in undergraduate and graduate education. Today, for the first time in American history, women constitute a majority of the nation's college students, and nearly as many women as men receive master's degrees. In addition, the number of women students receiving degrees from professional schools--including dentistry, law, and medicine--has increased dramatically, from 1,425 in 1966 to over 20,000 by the early 1990s. Women comprise nearly a third of the students attending law school and medical school.

Women have also made impressive political gains. By 1993, there were 1,524 women serving in public office, in the United States Congress, or in state legislatures. In 1984, for the first time, a major political party nominated a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, for the vice presidency. By 1994, two women, Ruth Bader Ginzburg and Sandra Day O'Connor, served on the Supreme Court, and 1,524 other women served in the United States Congress or in state legislatures.

In spite of all that has been achieved, however, problems remain. Most women today continue to work in a relatively small number of traditional "women's" jobs, and a full-time female worker earns only 68 cents for every $1 paid to men. Even more troubling is the fact that large numbers of women live in poverty. The "feminization of poverty" was one of the growing trends of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Today, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and many others end in legal separation and desertion--and the economic plight of these women is often grave. Families headed by women are four and a half times as likely to be poor as families headed by males. Although female-headed families constitute only 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for over 50 percent of the poor population.

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