Puerto Rican women have a high level of participation in the labor force. This high level of female labor participation has been linked to the economic development of Puerto Rico as a U.S. colony, in particular the growth and subsequent stagnation of the post-World War II industrialization program in Puerto Rico. The deliberate development of export-oriented industrialization increased the demand for female labor in the formal economy, contributing to a new division of labor and a feminization of the labor force. Employers in export-oriented industries selectively recruit women for their low wages and relative docility, and the belief that women have the patience and skills to do repetitive and detail-oriented tasks (Zsembik & Peek, 1994). Men were displaced from the extracted industries as Puerto Rico industrialized. Unemployment rates for men in Puerto Rico have risen more rapidly than for women. The high rate of the unemployment led to male out-migration leaving many families without a male income earner. Growing unemployment has led to increasing reliance on federal financial assistance to sustain the Puerto Rican economy. Females sought government subsidies to make ends meet.
Female employment is an important element to Puerto Rican working-class family survival. Studies have found that, within this population, women work as a way of contributing to the family income rather than as a way of establishing their own independence. Safa (1986) found that married women contributed 40-60% of the total family income. Women's participation in the labor force may support the current trends of Puerto Rican women of marrying at later ages, bearing their first child at later ages, and more likely to be employed before child-bearing begins. Some scholars contend that Puerto Rican women's increased contribution to the household economy has increased egalitarian relationships between husbands and wives as well as support for the feminist movement in Puerto Rico.
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