Modern Appliances and Gender Equality

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A recent study by economists at the University of Montreal has calculated how modern appliances have played an
Household technology heralded a revolution in women's economic opportunities
important role in gender equality. By freeing up women's time, inventions such as the washing machine or the refrigerator has helped women to enter the workforce and minimise household chores.

Contents

Household Technology Boom

The early 20th century saw a boom in technological advances that would revolutionise household cleaning and chores. In the late 1910s, a refrigerator sold for $1,600 and 26 years later such appliances could be purchased for $170. Access to electric stoves, washing machines and vacuum cleaners was also generalized. In 1913, the vacuum cleaner became available, in 1916 it was the washing machine, in 1918 it was the refrigerator, in 1947 the freezer, and in 1973 the microwave was on the market.

The Study

Professor Emanuela Cardia, from the Department of Economics, analysed 3,000 censuses conducted between 1940 and 1950, from thousands of American households, across urban and rural areas. Cardia was interested to examine the relationship between technological innovations and the impact on women's entry into the workforce and economy.

Results

According to Cardia, the innovations dramatically changed the work opportunities for women in the 20th century. The time spent on household chored decreased signficantly. In 1900, a woman spent 58 hours per week on household chores. By 1975, this was reduced to 18 hours.

"We calculated that women who loaded their stove with coal saved 30 minutes everyday with an electric stove. The result is that women flooded the workforce. In 1900, five percent of married women had jobs. In 1980, that number jumped to 51 percent."

Running water and electricity were essential factors in this quasi revolution.  In 1890, 25 percent of American households had running water and eight percent had electricity. 

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