How the Great Depression Affected Working Women: Underpaid, But Employed

The 1929 Stock Market Crash led to the loss of employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression. Women’s employment rates, however, increased for one group of persons.

Women working in the US increased from 10.5 million to 13 million between 1930 and 1940, a 24 percent increase. The positions open to women—so-called “women’s work”—were in sectors with lower stock market sensitivity, which was the primary factor in the greater employment rates for women.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, more and more women had been gradually entering the labor. But as thousands of once-breadwinner males lost their employment during the Great Depression, women were compelled to look for work with an increased feeling of urgency.

Women had access to employment that paid less but were less unstable. According to David Kennedy’s 1999 book, Freedom From Fear, by 1940, 90% of all women’s jobs could be divided into 10 categories, including domestic work for black and Hispanic women and jobs like teaching, nursing, and public service for white women.

The New Deal’s quick growth raised the need for secretarial positions, which women rushed to fill, and opened new, albeit limited, work prospects for them.


PIC:, Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project – Pressbooks,, Milwaukee Magazine

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