Women entered the Washington area's labor force in record numbers during the 1970s, accounting for nearly two-thirds of those who sought or found jobs here during that decade and claiming a greater number of managerial, professional and technical jobs than ever before, according to a new report.
The Washington region had the highest percentage of working women of any of the nation's large metropolitan areas, the report said, with women making up 47 percent of the work force in 1980, compared to 43 percent in 1970. An additional 220,020 women were in the labor force by the end of the decade, increasing the total number of working women here to 742,649 in 1980.
The report, an analysis of 1980 census data published by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, noted that most of the record gain in women's labor force participation occurred among women with children. And for the first time, the report said, a majority (56 percent) of women locally with children under 6 years of age were employed compared to 36 percent a decade earlier.
"What really stands out is the number of working women with children," said Aurora T. Kassalow, a regional planner at COG who co-authored the report. "Women delayed having their first child, had them at a later age and are not dropping out of the work force now that they are mothers."
Contributing to the increase in women employes, the report said, are such factors as higher divorce rates, with more women becoming heads of households, and changes in attitudes toward working women, especially working mothers. Also, more women are postponing marriage and children so they can finish college, earn bachelor's and master's degrees and get started on careers. And, finally, the economic pinch of inflation is increasing the need for two incomes in a household, so that few women can afford to leave the work force after marriage or childbearing, even if they wanted to quit their jobs.
The study, COG's seventh examining 1980 census data, provides the most detailed look yet, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, at trends in the region's female labor force and occupations. It includes statistics for the District, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church and Montgomery, Prince George's, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
The most dramatic growth in the female labor force occurred in Prince William County, where the number of women in the labor force increased 167.9 percent between 1970 and 1980, from 12,771 to 34,211. The numbers of women workers also jumped substantially in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, with increases of 134 and 117.7 percent, respectively.
Robert T. Dunphy, of COG's department of metropolitan development and information resources, said several factors may have contributed to the those sharp increases. The three counties all experienced sharp population increases, including sharp increases in female population. But they also changed in character over the decade, from mainly rural to more suburban, he said, meaning both that more households might contain wives who wish to work outside the home and that the costs of housing went up, perhaps requiring more households to seek a second income.
Alexandria, Prince George's and Arlington counties had the highest actual percentages of labor-force participation by women in the region in 1980, with 66 percent, 65 percent and 64 percent, respectively, of the women in those jurisdictions being in the labor force, the study said.
The most significant increase in the region's labor-force participation during the 1970's occurred among women with children under 17 years of age, the report said. Here, the rate jumped from 45 percent to 65 percent. By 1980, women with children were more likely to be employed than were women in general, "a turnaround since 1970," the study noted.
Pointing to the increase in women heads of households, the report said that in 1980, one out of every five families with children was headed by a woman compared to one out of eight in 1970.
The report also examined the types of occupations now held by women, noting that the number of women in management positions doubled during the decade. While reporting that the majority of the region's working women hold clerical, sales and service jobs, the study said professional and technical employment attracted most of the area women who joined the work force in the 1970's.
"The higher level of education women have achieved in the last decade has allowed a higher percentage of women to enter in greater numbers managerial, professional and technical occupations" once dominated almost exclusively by men, the report said.
By 1980, according to the report, the number of women in managerial jobs had increased by 182.1 percent, while the number of women in professional and technical occupations had jumped by 50.3 percent and 197.4 percent, respectively.
For each female secretary added to the work force during the decade, one female technician and two female managers were added, the study said. And the number of area women in executive, administrative and managerial positions increased by 61,000 in the 1970s to 94,981.
Besides crediting a higher education for the employment achievements of women during the 1970s, the report said progress was also due, in part, to an increased emphasis on equal opportunities for women.
In the Washington region, especially, the report said, the percentages of women who are employed and their percentages in various occupational groups are much higher than in other parts of the country, COG said.
Women continued to dominate teaching, nursing and librarian occupations traditionally viewed as "female jobs," the report said. But they also made strides in claiming jobs traditionally held by men. Occupations where women made up more than 40 percent of the work force in 1980 included recreation worker, health technician, religious worker, designer, legislator, accountant, underwriter, buyer and editor.
The Washington region also accounts for one out of every four female mathematicians in the country, one out of every six legislators and one out of every seven management analysts.