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A Boom of Boomers? Career Trajectories of French Women Born During the Baby Boom

Céline Clément, Catherine Bonvalet

In the normal scheme of things in the 1960s, life outside the family was reserved for men only, while women were considered “queens of the household.” Though raised according to this model, generations of women born post-war would nevertheless free themselves of it and gain more autonomy by developing new lifestyles both within their relationships and families but also outside of these private spheres. Once women were able to receive an education and take control of their fertility—choosing when and how many children to have—their life trajectories began to diversify, in particular in terms of their careers, as evidenced by their large-scale and permanent entrance into the job market starting in 1960. This was a major sociological change at the time and a radical transformation of employment status, with women moving from staying at home, to working some of the time, and leading to the model we have today, that of full-time employment and even holding multiple jobs (Maruani, 2000). Yet while the baby-boom generations are often viewed as the initiators of this latter model, a number of different employment models currently coexist.

The goal of this article is to describe, over the long term, these various employment models by way of 32 life histories of women from the first-generation of baby boomers (i.e., born between 1945 and 1954) taken in Paris and the surrounding region. These activity profiles constructed starting from childhood—in particular stemming from maternal imprinting (Battagliola, 1987), to modes of entry into adulthood, the root of social differentiation and female trajectories (Blöss et al., 1996), to the end of their working lives—can then be explored and used to establish a typology (knowing full well that such models are both highly changeable and permeable, since women may move from one model to another, especially if they separate). Such changes do not occur for everyone or at the same moment in life, which results in a heterogeneity of career paths but also in different visions women’s place in the family and in society, since these different models greatly influence how families are organized and represented, and they influence women’s trajectories, especially in terms of their conjugal relationships.