- From Marriage to the Market: The Transformation of Women's Lives and Work
From Marriage to the Market argues that women's relationship to domestic work altered in the twentieth century, placing women's unpaid labor squarely at the center of the developing "new economy." Relationships [End Page 317] to the family emerged that were divided sharply by class and race. "Changes in women's . . . work within the home in the first decades after World War II," Thistle argues, "underlay the profound alterations in family structures, sexual relations, and gender roles over the second half of the twentieth century" (10). The book is an excellent overview of changes in women's work both within and outside the family, differences among women rooted in race, the ways gender trumped those differences, and the transformation of older family relations by the penetration of the market into domestic life.
Thistle relies on secondary research from several disciplines to construct the framework for her study and draw a portrait of the gendered twentieth-century economy. Her methodology is essentially sociological. Her primary research source is the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (ipums), a standardized sample of federal census data, which she interprets to create a generalized picture of social change. The book includes numerous tables and figures that provide useful information about education, income and poverty rates, work, and biological reproduction.
The author makes two fairly sweeping claims that are not necessary to her project. First, she sets up "some feminists" (undefined) as strawpersons who believe that paid labor results in equality for women, or that patriarchy is the root cause of gender inequities. Such oversimplifications of "feminism" most feminist scholars no longer find useful. It is no great accomplishment to "challenge" them (3). Second, she claims that scholars have not yet clearly articulated the notion that the twentieth century marks a distinct watershed in the nature of women's economic relations. In one sense, this contention is true: No scholar has made this case clearly for the twentieth-century United States. Thistle effectively covers the major trends in the integration of women's paid and unpaid labor, and she clearly demonstrates the importance of work inside the home to our understanding of economic development and globalization.
In another sense, however, hers is an old argument advanced with great clarity by anthropologists, economists, historians, and sociologists working on the emergence of industrial capitalism or the rippling impact of capitalist development around the world. Safa's studies of women in Latin America, Boserup's analysis of the economics of development, and Boydston's articulation of unpaid housework as the basis for early capitalism (cited in the work under review), all connect motherhood and unpaid domestic labor to capitalist development.1 The gendered nature of the "New Economy" is a new wrinkle on an old process.
1. Helen Safa, The Urban Poor of Puerto Rico: A Study in Development and Inequality (New York, 1974); Esther Boserup, Women's Role in Economic Development (New York, 1979); Jeanne Boydston, Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic (New York, 1990).