The Center for Research on Women and Social Justice    Eileen Boris, Director    Department of Feminist Studies
University of California    Santa Barbara, CA 93106    Tel 805.893.8444, line 2    Fax 805.893.8676

S. Jay Kleinberg
UCSB, February 14, 2005

Giving Middle Aged Women a History: Findings from the USA

12:00-1:30 pm, HSSB 4020

This paper comes from a new project: the making of the matron, women in mid-life from age 40 to age 65. Historians have neglected this historically specific stage in the life cycle, concentrating heretofore on girlhood, motherhood, and old age. This presentation will focus on employment. While men exhibited a smooth employment profile over the course of their working lives, women's was highly "heaped," that is, it seemed to peak on years ending in zero or five. This is significant for what it tells us about the factors impelling certain women into labor force participation and underscores the divisions among economically active and inactive women, especially by race and education. Thus, the analysis of age heaping helps historians to understand the dynamics of female employment. By providing a new baseline about middle aged women's employment, this paper illuminates a host of major policy questions addressed by feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, such as pension splitting and age discrimination. It provides a foundation for further exploration into the significance of this new identity of middle age for women themselves, public discourse, and social activism. After all, middle age women were the sparks of the second wave of feminism.

S. Jay Kleinberg is Professor of History, Brunel Business School, Brunel University, London, England and Editor, Journal of American Studies, the journal of the British Association of American Studies. Among her books are The Shadow of the Mills: Working Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989); Women in the United States, 1830-1945 (Rutgers University Press, 1999); and Widows and Orphans First: The Family Economy and Social Welfare in the United States, 1870-1939 (in press, University of Illinois Press, 2005). She is co-editing a collection, Re-visioning U.S. Women's History (Rutgers Univ. Press) with Eileen Boris and Vicki Ruiz. Co-sponsored with the History Department and the Gender Brown Bag Series.

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