In the 1973 landmark decision, Roe v. Wade granted women more reproductive freedom, effectively shifting gender disparities towards a more equal footing while lending women more opportunities for education and career advancement. By allowing the termination of pregnancies under certain conditions by reason of a woman’s right to privacy, women acquired more sexual and reproductive autonomy, sparking a revolution in the ideology of a woman’s contribution to society.
Before 1973, child bearing was closely associated with marriage, with more women marrying at a young age and securing financial dependence from their husbands. At this time, 46% of married women, aged 25 to 46 years, participated in the job market, a rising trend up from previous generations due to an increase in job supply and demand. Nonetheless, only 8% of women had completed a 4-year education, limiting job opportunities to mostly clerical work. A ‘quiet revolution’ in the mid 70’s was soon the catalyst for Roe v. Wade’s ruling — a movement that connoted the growing expectations women felt in how they anticipated contributing to society.
Fast forward to today, 47 years after Roe v. Wade’s passing, and not only have women exceeded males in college completion (37% compared to 35%), but are also experiencing surges in the labor force. In fact, current research shows that men are benefiting financially more than women through marriage. Women, today, are in partnerships where they have a higher education and income level compared to their male counterparts. This is due, not purely to an expanding labor supply, as was already the case in the 1950’s, but rather most compellingly as a result of a woman’s newfound ability to invest in her life at an earlier age. As a result of the pill (made legal in the mid 60’s) and Roe v. Wade’s decision ruing, women have been able to advance their own human capitol.
So what will happen to the female fight for equal rights, fair wage policies, and educational and career opportunities if parts of Roe v. Wade are dismantled? The answer: obviously much of the positive progress we’ve witnessed in gender equality and reproductive rights will be reversed. Research that compares pregnancy trends and labor force outlooks before and after 1973 displays a stark contrast in outcomes for women in educational and career opportunities. In fact, more women are giving birth now, compared to generations before the establishment of reproductive rights, with a particular increase in motherhood for women with higher education. This statistic is fascinating — 80% of women, aged 40-44, holding a PhD became mothers in 2014 compared to just 65% in 1994. Mothers who wait to start families until after completing their education and joining the work force are also no less a part of their child’s life. In fact, women spend more time today on childcare than women did in 1965. This is also true for fathers, an outcome in gender equality that is undeniably a result of advancements in reproductive rights for women.
Woman have made unassailable strides in the last four decades in education and career outlooks. Our expectations and roles for ourselves and society are changing positively as we navigate the precarious balance of work and home life. Policies can do more to aid in this effort, however reversals in established mandates that have endowed autonomy on a woman’s reproductive health will undoubtedly move our movement backwards. Women are once again being placed in the position to protect something most naturally endemic to their guard — their own bodies. A threat to precepts surrounding Roe v. Wade is ostensibly a threat to a woman’s charge of her body and her life.