Women, Work, and Family Essay - Critical Essays

Joan W. Scott, Louise A. Tilly


Although they avoid the male-centered point of view of most previous studies by male labor historians, Tilly and Scott adopt the tone of objective social scientists rather than writing from a woman-centered or feminist perspective. Women, Work, and Family can perhaps most accurately be described as an attempt to apply the new social history to working women, rather than being what came to be viewed as women’s history in the decade after it was published. While the extensive use of social-science concepts and language gives the work an authoritative tone, women’s voices are rarely heard and it infrequently mentions individual women.

Tilly and Scott maintain that throughout the period under study most adult women married, and thus their experience with paid employment varied according to the type of family economic system that was dominant at a given point in time. In the preindustrial period, the family economy shaped women’s productive and reproductive roles. Because production took place within the home, women were able to participate in productive labor. Since their contribution was essential to the family’s economic survival, married women exercised greater authority within the family at this time than in later periods.

The authors suggest that the Industrial Revolution undermined this crucial economic foundation for women’s status within the family by bringing about the separation of home and work. Although contemporaries believed that the factory system of production greatly increased women’s employment opportunities, Tilly and Scott maintain that work, in the sense of paid employment, increasingly became a male role, while married women tended to engage in unpaid domestic duties. When married women did enter into paid employment, however, they usually did so in response to family economic needs rather than for individual advancement. Consequently, the authors refer to this stage as the family wage economy.

After World War I, a third family type emerged: the family consumer economy. It implied that families had risen above a subsistence standard of...

(The entire section is 863 words.)