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The Life-histories


The events that have influenced the behaviour of the workers interviewed can best be understood by looking at their life-histories. These have been used to analyse their patterns of employment, marriage, fertility, family planning, and co-residence. Two fundamental factors which pertain to all these emerge from the life-histories. They show that the main differences were not so much between the workers from the two countries, but between the men and the women in the total sample. Secondly, and less surprisingly perhaps, they show how women's personal lives and both the social and biological aspects of their reproductive role affect working cycles greatly, and are greatly influenced by them.

The workers took their first jobs when they were very young, in early adolescence. The boys were even younger than the girls- 13 years old in Argentina and 15 in Brazil. The median ages for women were 17 and 16 respectively. When women entered the labour market younger than this, in Argentina it was usually to substitute for an ill or absent father-provider, while in Brazil it was also sometimes to contribute income to families with a lot of children. Girls entered the labour market later in Argentina, where they attended school while helping with household tasks.

Seventy-five per cent of Brazilian women and 39.2 per cent of Argentine women found their first job in textiles. Fifty-three per cent of the men in Argentina and 15 per cent in Brazil found their first work in "non-waged work in services, commerce and non-textile industries." These were mainly sporadic odd jobs in the informal sector, where remuneration and conditions of work were not covered by national labour laws. Fourteen per cent of the men in Argentina and 6.2 per cent of them in Brazil entered the workforce through "formal waged jobs in services and commerce" such as supermarket assistants, bus drivers, watchmen, and office-boys. Civil construction offered some their first job: 9 per cent of the Brazilian males and 6 per cent of the Argentinians entered the workforce via the building industry.

For women, domestic service was the second most frequent way into the labour market. Household staff were more highly paid (earning roughly US$80-120 a month, about a third more than in Brazil) and better treated in Argentina, and 30.3 per cent of the women there worked first as maids, compared to only 10 per cent in Brazil. The older females in Brazil tended to stay longer as domestic servants before moving to textiles. Younger women were usually recruited directly into textiles. The women switched from domestic service to textiles for much the same reason in both countries: the better labour regulations and health facilities for industrial workers.

The workers usually left their first jobs of their own accord, the males looking for better wages and the females for better working conditions. Women usually stayed in their first job for less time than the men did. Dismissal accounted for more of the Brazilian women leaving their first jobs: 16 per cent were fired for pregnancy. In Argentina, 23.9 per cent of the women quit their first jobs "of their own will" for reasons relating to their traditional role: marriage, birth of a child, or illness, either their own or that of another family member, which meant they had to take care of the household. More Argentinian women were occupied as housewives before they went into textiles: a third of them got married and/or had their first child before they entered the industry.

Male workers had a wider variety of jobs before entering textiles than the women, who usually had only had one. However, although the men joined textiles with more labour-force experience, this was not reflected in the type of jobs they got; for both genders these were usually unskilled. The figures show that 74 per cent of the Brazilian women, 64 per cent of the Brazilian men, and 93.3 per cent of all the Argentinians were unskilled workers in their first textile job. Subsequently, fewer women than men reached skilled or semi-skilled positions. In Argentina, 3.2 per cent of the men interviewed held skilled jobs; there were no women in that category. In Brazil, while 36 per cent of the men held skilled or semi-skilled jobs, only 26 per cent of the women did. More men than women had managed to climb up the occupational ladder between 1970 and 1980. This was particularly significant in Argentina, where the skilled jobs for men increased significantly during that period, while they remained constant for women. In general, however, most workers in the industry remained unskilled throughout their entire working lives.

The Argentine sample had a longer tradition in employment. They entered the labour market in the 1960s, and the Brazilians in the 1970s. Both populations, however, have almost the same length of experience as workers in textiles, a sector to which they were recruited at the beginning of the 1970s: 61.1 per cent of the Argentinian sample and 66 per cent of the Brazilians were already working in textiles in 1970. However, the Argentine women entered the labour market six years later than their male counterparts: 10.4 per cent of those interviewed were housewives and 35.6 per cent were voluntarily unemployed in that year. It was different in Brazil, where the time-lag between male and female entry into the textiles industry related more to the men being employed elsewhere for longer periods than the women. However, women's rate of entry into textiles in Argentina in the 1970s was 1.9 per cent higher than men's. The period 1976-1985 was still more favourable for female recruitment, like the period 1975-1980 in Brazil, when fewer men from the sample were absorbed into the sector. There were several reasons for this: the firms' search for cheaper labour in both countries, the impact of modernization strategies in Brazil, and the general crisis that impoverished the working classes in Argentina during the military regime and drew more women into the labour market. Fewer Argentinian workers joined the sector after 1980, a reflection of the more severe crisis there in industry generally and in textiles in particular. However, even in the crisis, the trend was still in favour of women. The ratio for Argentinian female recruits after 1980 was 9 per cent higher than for men.


Textile workers tended to marry within their own social class, mostly to others in the same industry or to workers in services or commerce. The highest proportion of marriages to textile (30 per cent) and other industrial workers (50 per cent) was found among the women in Brazil. Women were likely to find partners in such occupations in a town like Petrópolis, with a longer textile tradition and significant contemporary industrial diversification. The first spouses of 19 per cent of the Brazilian and 17.7 per cent of the Argentine men also worked in textiles. Many more men than women (33.3 per cent of the Argentinians and 26.5 per cent of the Brazilians) found their first spouse outside the labour market. In Argentina it was common for men to marry housemaids. However, domestic workers in Brazil were a much lower income group, more differentiated from industrial workers, and the men in the Brazilian sample seldom married them. In Argentina, the occupations of second spouses were markedly different; they were much more likely to work in "other industrial, services, or commerce."

The workers married early: when they were 19.5 in Brazil and 22.5 in Argentina. Women tended to marry even earlier than men. The younger Brazilian women married earliest of all those in the samples, even earlier than the older women had. There were more marriages among the Argentine population; 84 per cent of the workers had married once, compared to 63 per cent of the Brazilians. Men in Argentina were more likely to embark on a second marriage: 75 per cent of them had married twice, compared to only 29.2 per cent of the women. Men tended to marry younger women and women to marry older men, in line with stereotyped gender roles.

Separation rates were similar in both countries - 15.3 per cent in Argentina and 13 per cent in Brazil. The proportion of women in Argentina who were separated was 12.6 per cent higher than the figure for men, perhaps indicating a positive correlation between separation and women in the industrial workforce that did not appear in Brazil. The qualitative information showed that female labour-force participation increased women's autonomy and introduced new household conflict about housework and child care more frequently in Argentina. This trend was undoubtedly related to the traditional perceptions of women working outside the house, which were particularly strong in Argentina. The effect of the tensions during the period of military rule between 1975 and 1980, when there was a registered separation rate of 8.9 per cent, may also have had an impact. Separated women tended to remain single. Men in Argentina had more stable unions and a higher disposition to both first and second marriages. However, the women spent longer in their first marriages than the men did, tending to divorce only after five years of marriage. At the time of interview, 37 per cent of the females in the Argentine sample and 35.4 per cent of those in Brazil were single.

Workers in both countries tended to marry after some work experience. This reflected both the need to establish an income before marriage as well as the early age at which they entered the labour market. Women married after a shorter time in work than men. In Brazil, work seemed to delay female marriage two years more than in Argentina: Brazilians tended to have five years' work experience before marriage and Argentinians three years. There were very few cases of female textile workers marrying before they entered paid employment; there were no examples of this among the males, who were expected to be income-providers. Sexual intercourse before marriage or stable unions seemed frequent, especially in Brazil. However, it was difficult to obtain clear information on this topic in Argentina, because of the stronger traditional views on sexuality found in this country where religious influences are stronger.


Approximately half the female workers in the sample (52.6 per cent of the women in Argentina and 49.2 per cent in Brazil) had children; a higher proportion of the men had children. The average number of children per interviewee was low: three in Brazil and two in Argentina. Eighty-three per cent of all the Brazilian households included two to four children. In fact, the Brazilian sample had a fertility rate below the national average. Only 11.8 per cent of all the households in the survey had between five and eight children. Families with more than five children were less common in Argentina. Infant mortality rates in both samples were low in relation to the general population, particularly in Brazil, perhaps because of the relatively high economic status of the workers in Petrópolis. Moreover, national aggregate rates in that country tended to be skewed by figures from other low-income groups and particular regions. Only 5.8 per cent of the workers in Argentina had lost a child before its first birthday.

Generally the women had their children earlier in their life-cycles than the men. Only 34.6 per cent of the Argentinian men had had children before they were 25, whereas 63.4 per cent of the women had children by that age. In Brazil, half the women had had children before 21, and half the men before 23. The younger age-cohorts had their children even earlier than the older workers had done.

Most women workers tended to wait longer than men after marriage or stable union to have their first child. Twenty-three per cent of the mothers in both samples waited two years. Industrial work undoubtedly influenced these women. In Argentina, it was clear that women tended to reduce the number of births once they were incorporated into the labour force, which both limited their reproductive role and widened their social horizons. In Brazil, a large number of women had been dismissed because of pregnancy. Men waited less time after marriage to have their first child, perhaps because the great majority of them had housewives or women outside the labour force as their first spouse, so their wives were available to care for children. Moreover, in general, family responsibility had less impact on the working lives of men.

Contraceptive use was slightly less extensive in Brazil than Argentina. However, all the Brazilian workers declared that they had used some form of contraception at some point in their lives. Less than half the Argentinians rated themselves as regular users. It was not possible to draw definite conclusions on comparative rates of birth control from the data available.

In Brazil, the population studied began using birth-control methods earlier in their twenties, at an average age of 23. In Argentina, 87.5 per cent of the sample first used contraceptive methods before the age of 30, and a higher proportion than in Brazil began contraception in their thirties. There was very little difference between the two samples in the types most used, which were the pill, the condom, and natural methods. The use of more than one method was more frequent among the Argentine sample. Three-quarters of the Brazilians, but only one-third of the Argentinians, continued to practice the first method they used.

Contraception was usually left to the women, a habit which increased in both countries after marriage. More of the women in the sample practiced contraception. They often began after the birth of their first child, when they were already in the textile sector. However, there did not seem to be any definite positive correlation between birth-control practices and formal employment, as there was between marriage and industrial work. Only qualitative data on the effect of labour-force participation on family planning after the first child were gathered, but it did not seem to have more impact than other factors like economic difficulties and exhaustion from the double burden of formal and domestic work.

Men tended to start birth control relatively earlier in their life-cycles, as early as 19 in Brazil. The data suggest that they later abandoned their early contraceptive practices more frequently than women did, though men in Brazil returned to the use of condoms to a certain extent when they were older. They seemed to take more responsibility for family planning after they had had several children. Argentina showed the opposite trend: there was a significant increase in male non-users as the sample population aged between 1970 and 1980. In general, it may be said that very few men shared contraception responsibilities with their wives or permanent partners.

Condoms were the contraceptive most frequently used by men in both countries. It was the first method for 61 per cent of the Brazilian men who practiced contraception, and 55.7 per cent of the Argentinians. Men in Argentina also began birth-control use with natural methods: coitus interruptus was the initial practice of 42.2 per cent of them. In Brazil, it was used by only 31.7 per cent of the men, all of them among the older workers.

The majority of women in the Brazilian sample (73 per cent) chose the pill as their first birth-control method. This was the case for 50 per cent of the sample in Argentina, where the women used a wider range of methods, the second most common being abstaining from sexual intercourse during the fertile period of their ovulation. This technique was practiced by 31.2 per cent in Argentina but only 16 per cent in Brazil. Sterilization (mainly by tubal ligation) rates were also very different in the two samples. In Brazil, where it was encouraged by government policies, it had become widespread, and 10.9 per cent of the women in the sample had been sterilized. It was commonly performed during caesarean births, and the positive correlation between caesarean births and sterilization had risen to 31 per cent at the national level by 1985. This method had been chosen by only one woman in the Argentine sample (1.5 per cent of the sample). On the other hand, monthly injections to suppress fertility were only used in Argentina, where it was the third most common method, adopted by 7.8 per cent of the women. Other methods, such as the IUD and the diaphragm, were seldom used in either country, largely on account of their higher cost. In both countries, a diaphragm could cost US$30-60 and an IUD US$25-40), while the pill or monthly injection could be obtained for US$2-4 a month, and sometimes for even less or free of charge in Brazil.

Given the types of methods most commonly used in each country, it is apparent that the Brazilian sample had access to more adequate and secure birth control, while the less reliable natural methods were more likely to be used by the Argentine population of both genders. There was still a relatively high proportion of women in both countries - a quarter of the Argentinian women and a third of those in Brazil who were not using any form of contraception at the time they were interviewed. Most of them said this was because they were not involved in an ongoing sexual relationship. In Argentina, the most frequent explanation was that they were not likely to have sexual intercourse because they were too young or had no stable or legitimate partner. In Brazil, the emphasis was more on just not having a sexual partner. There, abortion was openly considered an important birth-control resource in the case of "accidents" within an occasional sexual relationship. It was clear that women in both countries had less continuity in their contraceptive practices during their life-cycles than the men did.


The textile workers studied tended to have stable living arrangements throughout their lives. More than half of them changed living arrangements only once, usually from choice rather than necessity. This was normally when they formed a new household after marriage. In Brazil, the number of workers who had never changed residence during their lifetime was higher. At the time of their first job, most workers in both countries lived with their family of origin, or, more specifically, with their mothers. This was due not only to the death of their fathers, but also because of the number of men who had abandoned their wives. In Petrópolis, the fathers had often migrated in search of better jobs. Most of these young workers living at home were men. As mentioned earlier, it was common for women to take their first job in domestic service, living in with a wealthier family that provided board and lodging as weld as a small wage. Later, when they got their first textile job, the women returned to live with their parents.

Most workers moved away from their parents' home when they got married, although there were differences between the practices in each country. It was common for many Brazilian workers to co-reside with their families of origin after marriage until they obtained government funds to buy their own house. Thirty-eight per cent of the sample there still lived with a parent or parent-in-law, an arrangement which sometimes persisted until after the birth of their first child. This was less common in Argentina. Reorganization of the domestic group, involving a higher degree of co-residence with parents and in-laws, was more frequent in Argentina at the time the first child was born. In Brazil, the number of compound families decreased between 1970 and 1980, when most of the population studied had had their first child. The median year of first childbirths (1974) coincided with the main thrust of modernization in the textile industry, when many women lost their jobs. The lower incidence of co-residence when the first child was born suggests that unemployed women workers could engage in full-time child care. It also reflects the longer time it took Brazilian workers to form their own households after marriage and the birth of their first child. In general, families in both countries retained an accentuated nuclear form through the workers' lives.


Broadly speaking, the pattern of life-cycle events was similar in both samples. The workers found a first job; later they moved to the textiles industry. They married a few years before or after that; they moved from their parental home; they had their first child and only then began to practice contraception. However, there were certain important differences by gender and age between the two countries.

Brazilian women spent fewer years between their entry into the textiles industry and marriage (three years was the median) than the men did, as well as between marriage and the birth of their first child (also a three-year median). Life-cycle events followed each other rapidly in these women's lives. There was strong work continuity, and although both the biological and sociological aspects of their reproductive role interfered with their working lives in many ways, they experienced less disruption than the Argentine women. Indeed, marriage and labour-force participation were closely interwoven for them, and their industrial setting was a major factor in their socialization and search for a partner.

A discontinuous work history was more common among the Argentine women This was most striking when compared to men's working life in that country. Argentine women acted more in accordance with gender stereotypes regarding sexual intercourse, marriage, birth control, and, most specifically, child care. For them, traditional values were a major factor in delaying nuptiality and childbearing after they became industrial workers. They had longer time-spans between these three events than the Brazilian women, but this was not because they were more work-oriented: they felt that, once married, their flexibility and autonomy in decision-making might be surrendered to men. Births, marriage, and illness in the domestic group could make them retire, apparently voluntarily, from the formal labour force. These pressures represented a spectrum of socio-cultural determinants which established what is required of women. They accepted the demands and fulfilled the expectations. In both populations, birth control started later for women than for men, but then it became almost solely their responsibility. Contraception was initiated after marriage and first childbirth, especially among Argentine women. This pattern of contraception was a central factor in the greater impact that women's personal life-cycles had on their employment, and vice versa, during their reproductive life. In general, males in both countries had more varied employment and greater work continuity than females. They also delayed marriage and reproduction relative to their early start in the workforce, especially in Argentina.

Among the young there was a clear tendency to experience certain events like marriage, reproduction, and contraception earlier, particularly in Brazil. Their ideas about fertility and marriage were directly related to this change. Young workers looked forward to getting married and starting a family immediately, even though they initiated birth control earlier than the older workers had. However, patterns of employment and co-residence were much the same for both the younger and the older cohorts.

Lidia's life-history illustrates a typical profile of a woman in the older cohort of those surveyed in Brazil. A summary of her life as it has been shaped by occupation, marriage, fertility, contraception, and co-residence presents a typical example of the kind of events and sequences most common among her peers in that country.

At the time of the research Lidia was 38 years old. She was born in 1947 in a household made up of her father, who was a municipal civil servant, her mother, who was a textile worker, and four kin. When she was eight years old her father died and her mother used to send her to the local crèche, where she picked her up after work. In 1963, when she was 16, she started work in the local textile firm where her mother and brothers were already employed. Lidia says that her mother considered this family continuity "as natural." After two years there she found a boyfriend five years her senior who was a taxi-driver. She had had a fellow textile worker as a boyfriend before that, but the relationship did not develop because of problems at work.

She married at 19, an event which coincided with her losing her job because the firm had run into difficulties. As Lidia put it: "The factory was in crisis; it delayed wage payments; you rotated between jobs; so I decided to find a boyfriend." In other words, she had expectations of economic security through this relationship. This was characteristic of the older generation of Brazilian women, although in Lidia's case it turned out to be an illusion. After her marriage she left her household of origin to live alone with her husband. Shortly after that she found a job in a modern textile factory.

After marriage, she began taking the pill. She was 20 at the time. She says this was because they were not in an economic position to raise a child. Her husband collaborated on and off with contraception, using condoms. They both planned their first child, who was born three years after their marriage, when Lidia was 22. After the birth, she continued using contraceptives, a practice she maintained until two years before the interview.

All this time, however, her husband was drinking heavily and they had many problems in their relationship. Because of this and his lack of economic support, they separated for seven months, but she went back to him. She kept her second job for nine years, until she was dismissed because she commanded too high a wage - she was replaced by a younger worker on a lower wage. This happened in 1975, during the modernization of the industry. She stayed unemployed for 10 months, using her time to make ice-cream at home for sale. Finally, she found a job in another textile firm, in which she was working at the time of the interview.

In her conversation, Lidia interrelated private events with what was happening in the workforce: for example, her own employment opportunities and the fact that she belonged to a family traditionally of textile workers. She repeated several times that "to be in the factory was like being at home." Her marriage and motherhood did not interfere significantly with her occupational history. This was a characteristic of Brazilian female workers, in contrast to the Argentinian sample, who experienced greater work discontinuity because of nuptiality or childbearing. In Lidia's case, unemployment was the result of dismissal.

Lidia was atypical in her use of contraception, both because she and her husband shared responsibility for it and because she used it earlier than the average woman in her age-cohort in Brazil. However, she is typical in waiting a longer time between marriage and her first child (three years) than the younger generation did.

Indeed, the study suggests a number of key differences in the behaviour and life-course of the two cohorts of Brazilian women. In many cases, the younger women had worked as domestic servants, a situation which they usually disliked, before they moved to the textiles industry. This shows the diversification of occupations in Petrópolis which years ago consisted of traditional families of textile workers. Maria and Juana described their experiences in the interviews.

María: "The first time I looked for work, I went out asking people if they needed a maid. I found a woman who was interested and I got a job. Afterwards, I quit and stayed at home for a while. Then I worked for another family for five years. The woman had a job outside the home and I took care of the children, the house, and the washing. Then they moved to Sao Paulo and wanted to take me with them, but I didn't go because my own family needed me so much, you know. I remained unemployed for a while, until I found a job in the factory where I still am. . . I prefer the factory; there we have all our rights. Living and working in the house of a family, you don't have any. . . I weep over the five years I wasted on that job. . . "

Juana: "Then I went to work as a live-in maid in the house of a family, because at that time there were six of us at home. . . things were very difficult. . .I worked in this house until August. Then I left and stayed home until December, and the summer began. I began to work in another house. . . there I did the cleaning. . . today I could continue working as a domestic, but I don't want to . . . we are treated like things. . . I'm going to work in a factory; there I'm not going to know who the boss (patrão) is."

In her interview Maria referred to the fact that her family really needed her help. Up to the time she got her job, she had taken responsibility for most of the household tasks. Her paid employment as a domestic servant was virtually an extension of her activities within her own home. Maria's home life thus conditioned her manner of entry into the labour market. It is also possible to observe the effect of household pressures in Juana's case when she says "at that time there were six of us at home."

Both the women were young when they joined the workforce. Maria did so at the age of 17, a year later than the average woman in the study. Juana began working when she was 13 years old. Both entered the labour force as domestic servants. Both said that they preferred to work in a factory rather than as domestic servants, given the benefits that factory work provided. It should be remembered that the employment of domestic servants was not rigorously controlled by labour legislation in Brazil, and domestic workers arc often subject to excessive demands and unreasonable working conditions without access to any legal recourse.

The younger women in Brazil tended to marry immediately after entering the labour market, at an average age of 21. They had usually begun contraception three years earlier than the older cohort, frequently after having their first child, like Amalia, whose experiences follow. Younger women chose the pill more often than the older women, though this does not mean they were necessarily more aware of birth-control methods than the older women. They also tended to begin sexual relations before using contraception. The younger women talked about sexuality and contraception more openly and their opinions were more independent and less traditional.

Amalia, for example, was a single mother who explained how she began taking the pill. "My mother never informed me about the pill. She said she opposes the use of it; she says it destroys women's health . . . My cousin gave me the name of that pill I take now. . . I don't know about other contraceptive methods, I've never asked the doctor. . . I never made use of contraception, I wasn't even worried, but after I became pregnant I had twins and they died and I didn't want to have any more. . . This baby was lack of care. . . I tried to do everything, take injections, but it was useless. I tried to induce an abortion in many ways. . . but now he is born, he is everybody's joy." Amalia, who never practiced contraception before her first birth and resorted to contraception only after the loss of her twins in their first week, when she was in an unstable relationship, thought that contraception was ineffective (she only knew of the pill her cousin recommended) and, if she became pregnant again, she said she would try to induce an abortion, which she regarded as necessary in an extreme case.

Yolanda, who was 26 and had five children, said the doctor had given her vaginal contraceptives but they had been ineffective. She said it was impossible to have a lot of children without help to bring them up. She got no help from her husband or family and that is why she had had a tubal ligation during her last caesarean delivery. Both interviews showed how women may have few contraceptive resources in spite of apparent access to them. However, they were prepared to talk frankly about extreme ways to control their fertility.

In Argentina, the younger female workers also entered the labour market early, though not as young as in Brazil. In Argentina, the absence of a father provider was more likely to cause girls to take their first job early. If not subject to this pressure, the younger women stayed at school longer. Clara, who was 18 at the time of the interview, had been taken care of by her grandparents since the age of seven, when her parents divorced. She was still living with her grandmother when she began to work at 14. Clara explained the importance of her wage in family subsistence: "When I started working, I saved some money to buy clothes and handed the rest to my grandmother. . . and she bought things for the house. . . " In spite of this early involvement in the labour market, she did not use contraceptives because she considered that "the time has not come yet." The young Argentinian women began sexual activity later than the Brazilian girls and they were less open about their sexuality, fertility, and contraception.

Many of the older Argentinian women had quit their jobs because of marriage, childbirth, or family illness, which resulted in greater discontinuity in the pattern of their productive activity than shown in the histories of their Brazilian counterparts. Employment was commonly interrupted when they had a baby, as in Nina's case. Nina's son was born at the beginning of 1971. She re-entered the textile industry when the boy was two, considering that "by then, he could stay with his grandmother. " It would seem that children of this age were perceived to be less in need of personal attention and it was not so risky to entrust them to someone else at this point. The end of a marriage or union was another critical point which could force a woman to re-enter the market where she had already had experience. This happened to Maria, who had left her textiles job in 1962 when her first child was born. When she separated from her husband in 1971, she was employed again at the same factory where she had worked before.

The behaviour of the women in both cohorts followed more traditional patterns in Argentina than in Brazil. The comments of one of them on what her husband's family thought of a working woman illustrated gender stereotypes which were encountered more frequently in Argentina: "They think a woman must stay at home, and the man in the street. Actually, for my father-in-law, women working at the factory are not decent, and when his daughters were 13 he made them work as live-in maids (domestic service). He prefers them to work with a family rather than in a factory. Many times I tried to convince my sisters-in-law to come and work with me, but he wouldn't let them because for him women working in a factory are all light-headed." The older women also reinforced social stereotypes, for example when they considered the possibilities of sexual intercourse and contraception only in terms of a stable union. Lila, a 35-year-old interviewee, declared that she did not use contraceptives "because I am separated and don't have a spouse now."


There were thus some clearly perceptible differences in women's behaviour according to their age and country. Some seeds of change were discernible among the younger group, especially in Brazil. However, the main differences were more a matter of ideology than practice, and general attitudes to women's role as workers and wage-earners continued to influence their behaviour. This of course included the perceptions the workers had of themselves: how they saw women's work and wages in general as well as their attitude to their own wages and attachment to the textile labour force. The women in the groups studied provided a significant proportion of their household's income. In spite of this, an amazing proportion of men in both countries said that women should "under no circumstances work outside the home." Thirty-seven per cent of the men interviewed in Argentina and 17.4 per cent in Brazil expressed this opinion. Usually, the more the men contributed to household income, the less they accepted women's work in the labour market. More striking still was the fact that some (7.6 per cent in Argentina and 2.8 per cent in Brazil) of the female workers themselves agreed. Negative views on women's paid work increased among both genders when there were small children: 5.5 per cent of the Brazilian women and 12.9 per cent of the Argentinian women agreed that women should not work in these circumstances. Men felt even more strongly about this than women: 19.1 per cent of them in Brazil and 19.5 per cent in Argentina considered waged work for women unacceptable when they had small children. The agreement between the genders on this point was even greater in Argentina than in Brazil.

In response to further inquiry about the circumstances in which women might work outside their homes, the main reason given by both samples was "[when] it is necessary to maintain the household." For both genders, women's work was accepted when it was a matter of necessity. This was most clearly expressed by the men: women could work outside the home when it was a question of need, but they should not gain autonomy from this involvement in the labour market. While a third of the men in both samples and 49.2 per cent and 33.1 per cent of the Argentinian and Brazilian women respectively considered women's work as acceptable when the family had to be maintained, only 12.2 per cent of them in Brazil and 3.1 per cent in Argentina thought of female workforce participation as a way to guarantee independence from their husbands' wages. Thirty-five per cent of the Brazilian women saw the money as a way to acquire autonomy but only 16.7 per cent of the Argentine women agreed. This difference of opinion among the women in the two countries persisted even among women who provided more than 75 per cent of their household's income.

Hence, although the Argentine women were more realistic about the importance of their income to family subsistence, their status vis-a-vis their husbands was less questioned. In both countries, women whose contribution was about equal to their husbands' (those bringing in 41 to 59 per cent of family income) believed that work made them more independent. Making a similar contribution helped them balance their advantages as workers. Only 25.5 per cent of the Brazilian sample and 10.1 per cent of the Argentines entertained the idea of women's work as a way to acquire a career. Certain changes in behavioural patterns and perceptions were appearing among the younger workers in both samples. They found it less difficult to accept female participation in the labour market and the new roles which might develop from this. They were also more accepting of wider autonomy for women, which implied new roles for the men, too. More independence for women did not make the young men feel as threatened as it did the old men.

In spite of the generally negative opinions expressed about women's waged work, most of the women were more realistic than their male counterparts in acknowledging that their wages "are very necessary" for family survival. Yet a large proportion of the women in both countries (46.2 per cent in Brazil and 21.2 per cent in Argentina) regarded their wages as merely complementary. Men in both countries were less ready to admit the extent of women's contribution: women's wages were regarded as complementary by two-thirds of them in each country. Only 11.3 per cent of the Brazilian men considered women's wages as essential for family subsistence; they generally regarded themselves as the main providers. However, the sample showed that 34.2 per cent of the women provided 60 per cent or more of their households' income. Argentine men were somewhat more realistic: 31.3 per cent of them acknowledged women's wages as essential. In general, women's employment was accepted as an economic necessity, but there was little appreciation of new roles for women.

These opinions were expressed in a context of perceived impoverishment. Seventy-three per cent of Argentine men declared that their economic situation in relation to both wages and stability had not improved or had worsened since they entered the textiles industry. More women (33.3 per cent) than men (20.3 per cent) recorded a positive change in their economic situation. More of the Brazilian workers (58.6 per cent of the women and 56.5 per cent of the men) registered an improvement in their lives. However, whether the men thought their situation had improved or deteriorated did not seem to make much difference to their stereotyped views of women's work and wages. Indeed, in spite of the marked socio-economic improvement in their lives as textile workers and their obvious role as providers of a significant proportion of their family income, most women, too, considered their wages as complementary and their work as acceptable mainly on the grounds of helping to maintain their families.

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