Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day and on that subject a writer friend has posed an interesting question: "How different would life be today if the role of women had remained unchanged over these past six decades."
Statistics Canada notes that only 24 percent of women between ages 15 and 54 were part of the labour force in 1953. Some of us recall that many of those jobs were in so-called traditional female occupations -- nursing, secretarial work, waitressing, teaching, retail sales or social work. In that same year, 96 percent of men were gainfully employed. More significantly, in 1951, only 11 percent of married women were working outside the home.
Fast forward to more recent statistics: In 2014, now 82 percent of women between ages 15 and 54 were in the labour force, while male employment declined slightly to 91 percent. By 1994, job rates for married women had reached 58 percent.
Why the dramatic increase in the numbers of women in the labour force? Availability of the pill in the 1960s meant females finally had gained control over reproduction choices. Fertility rates tumbled from 3.9 children per female in 1959 to 1.9 children by 2011. Employment became a viable option or addition to motherhood. The women’s movement opened the doors to many occupations and professions formerly considered less welcoming of women. The rapid postwar expansion of the Canadian economy created far more demands for workers than could be filled by men alone.
Let’s assume none of these sociological factors had occurred. Let’s imagine today’s Canada remaining stuck in that above-mentioned 1950s culture. What would our nation look like if only 24 percent of females and 11 percent of married women worked outside the home.
The many downsides of the "what if?" question are obvious:
-- society would lose the vital contribution women have made to the workforce through their creativity, intelligence, education and experience
-- females who rightfully seek to fulfill their vocational potential and dreams are denied that opportunity, which would be grossly unjust
-- men would have to continue carrying the heavy load of being sole income-provider and those resultant longer hours on the job would rob them and their family of time together
-- women not working outside the home would not have created wealth which would have increased consumer spending which, in turn, would create more jobs and subsequently more wealth.
The role of full-time homemaker -- or lead parent -- is a worthwhile calling, a viable option for those women (or men) freely choosing that path. Stay-at-home dads were unthinkable 60 years ago, but are quite common today in situations where the wife/mother's earning capability exceeds that of the husband/father. No question that the male place in family life has also evolved, toward a greater involvement in parental and domestic roles and that is a good thing.
As a parent and grandparent of females, however, I am also thankful we are not stuck in the 1950s. More choices for women obviously are now available. Yet, while much progress has been made, further equality of the sexes still remains to be achieved. And have no fear, it will happen.
While I will not live to see it, it would not surprise me in the least if in time women become the dominant species. More and more, they carry all the cards and men will have to play along in order to get what they want.