The Washington area has the highest proportion of working women among the nation's 10 largest metropolitan areas, according to a new report tracing the growth of Washington's female labor force over the past two decades.
The report notes that the stereotype of the suburban housewife has largely vanished, with suburban women's participation in the paid labor force growing from 39 percent in 1960 to 60 percent of the suburban female population by 1979, based on the most recent data available.
Written by Janice Hamilton Outtz for the Greater Washington Research Center, the study reported that between 1960 and 1979 the number of Washington area women in the paid labor force more than doubled, rising from slightly more than 326,000 to 687,000, or roughly 45 percent of the region's total work force.
In the other nine major metropolitan areas, women make up an average of 43 percent of the work force. Boston ranks second to Washington, with women constituting about 44 percent of its work force. Houston, at about 40 percent, ranks lowest of the 10.
Six out of every 10 Washington women are in the labor force compared to five out of every 10 for the other metropolitan areas, the report said. The increase of working women in the Washington area was double the growth in the female population as a whole during the same 20-year period.
"A subtle revolution is occurring across the United States as more and more women join the paid labor force," the report's author wrote. "In the Washington metropolitan area, this revolution is occurring with particular strength."
But that revolution, according to the most recent statistical information available, is apparently being waged more by women who live in the suburbs, where the numerical growth of the female labor force has occurred. In 1960, the area's female labor force was divided equally between the District and the suburbs. By 1979, the suburban share had risen dramatically to 77 percent.
In the District, the size of the female labor force increased slightly from 163,000 in 1960 to 170,000 in 1970, then fell below its 1960 level in 1979. But since the female population of the District also declined during this period, the rate of participation by working women living in the city continued to rise.
In the suburbs, by contrast, the female labor force has climbed steeply. In the 1960's it rose by 189,000, or 116 percent, to 353,000 working women. And between 1970 and 1979 it had increased by another 177,000, or 50 percent.
Women in the Washington area, according to the study, have made "significant improvements in their occupational status" over the past two decades, with the most striking shift occurring in white collar employment. In 1960, 47 percent of all employed women worked in clerical jobs while only 21 percent held professional, technical or managerial positions. By 1979, however, that gap had narrowed to 41 percent in clerical jobs compared to 35 percent in professional positions.
But the report noted that despite such significant changes, "women still lagged behind in professional and blue collar jobs," outnumbering all employed persons by a ratio of two-to-one in clerical jobs and dominating service jobs to a slightly greater extent today than 20 years ago.
The Research Center's report is the first part of a planned two-part study of women in the labor force in the Washington area. The second part of the study, expected after data from the latest U.S. census becomes available in 1982, will focus on marital status, number and ages of children, income group and educational level. The center hopes in that report to identify child care needs and percentages of women unable to join the labor force because they are giving birth, are institutionalized or are over 70.
The current study noted that about 76 percent of the increase in working women was among white females, although the percentage of nonwhite women in the labor force "remained consistently higher than that for white women."
Nonwhite women in the working force here numbered nearly 92,000 in 1960, 159,000 in 1970 and 209,000 in 1979, an increase of 128 percent. The dramatic growth in the nonwhite female labor force took place in the suburbs, climbing from 12,000 in 1960 to 100,000 by 1979.
Yet the study also reported that the unemployment rate for both white and nonwhite women has been rising, from 2.8 percent in 1960 to 5 percent in 1979, a figure that is higher here than the 4 percent national unemployment rate of the general population. More than twice as many nonwhite women are unemployed as white women.