This paper examines the changing nature of the female labor force in Ireland and the United States. Data from the two countries are used to illustrate both similarities and variations in the Western experience of women during the period of rapid change in work and family life since the late nineteenth century.
A central facet of how Western families have been transformed during the past century has involved the increased participation of women in the paid labor force, and in the most recent decades, a dramatic rise in the labor force participation of married women. In his classic work, World Revolution and Family Patterns, Goode suggests that the increase in female participation in the non-agricultural labor force was clearly evident in Western countries but was not dramatic during the first half of this century (1963: 59-60). Since 1950, however, increases in the economic activity of women have occurred throughout the West. For example, using data from Scandinavian countries, Haavio-Mannila and Kari (1980) document the increased economic activity of women throughout this century, the transformation of the economies of Scandinavia from an agricultural to an industrial base, and the rapid increase in labor force participation of married women since 1950.