Ah, I read the first line of the OP as referring to men fighting overseas in Europe. American narcissistic moment, I guess.
Originally Posted by FineLine
As for the U.S., there weren't any jobs prior to WWII (due to the Great Depression, which lasted roughly half a generation). Jobs were created by the industrial gearing-up for the war, and woman increasingly took those jobs as men went to war. But once the war ended, the jobs evaporated again. The women went back home to allow men to pick up the few jobs that remained, and the rest of the men were sent off to college on the G.I. Bill for servicemen. The new generation of college-educated men that started graduating at the start of the 50s kicked off the technology wave starting in the late 50s, the space race, the Cold War, and all that.
The G.I. Bill also provided low interest home loans, facilitating the suburbanization I mentioned in my last post.
Originally Posted by FineLine
But women weren't part of that since they hadn't done military service and so hadn't gotten the free college education.
I don’t know. It’s a hypothetical question--it’s difficult to weigh it against the realities of the time.
I will say this, on a general level:
Women were definitely second-class citizens in the workplace. Men were expected to have first crack at the job market, since they were presumed to be breadwinners and supposedly had families depending on them. Women had equal voting rights as early as 1920, but the workplace still observed the concept of the old-style nuclear family: If you fired a woman, only one person went hungry; if you fired a man, a whole family starved. So the women tended to get laid off before the men.
OTOH, no one was *actively* keeping women out of the workforce (meaning that there was no legislation actually prohibiting the hiring of women, the way that Jim Crow laws kept blacks out of the workforce or the voting booths in some places). Women in fact had a large and active participation in the workforce in secondary and auxiliary roles (teaching, nursing, secretarial, and service industries), and WWII showed that women would be actively recruited for any job at all if the men simply weren’t available.
Furthermore, women's colleges existed, and college-educated women did get hired for managerial/admin positions in women's fields. It's just that college was the exception rather than the rule for women back then. It's hard to imagine what would have happened if waves of women had suddenly started going to college. In the case of the men, the homecoming WWII servicemen were basically forced to go to college; there were no jobs, so the government gave them the choice of using the GI bill or starving, thereby getting a generation of young men off the street and warehousing them in college for 4-10 years until the economy improved a bit. It's hard to imagine a mass influx of women going into college at the same time.
Anyway, to sum up, I would say: Women didn’t have an equal playing field by comparison with men; men got first dibs on any kind of decent job. But on the other hand, once the economy expanded enough to provide full employment for both women and men at the same time, then women were recruited for both college and jobs as much as men in order to get those positions filled. The trouble is that that particular economic situation (sufficient employment opportunities for both men and women at the same time) didn’t even start to occur until the 60s or 70s, due to the Depression, the devastation of WWII, and the long, slow post-war recovery. So I think you have to factor in economic considerations to get a complete picture.
BTW, I'm not an historian or whatever. I'm just relaying what I know from general reading and maybe an old history class or two.