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War Economy

Women Replace Men in Industry1

page 90

Women Replace Men in Industry1

Women drawn into industry for the war period played the major part in filling gaps left by the withdrawal of men for the armed services. Soljak writes:2

‘Women from the cities joined those in the country in the work of maintaining and increasing farm production, vital to New Zealand's war effort. Members of the Women's Land Army drove tractors, grew fruit and vegetables, milked cows, tended sheep and helped in many other phases of agriculture.

‘All organisations were co-ordinated under the Women's War Service Auxiliary, which recruited women for service with the armed forces auxiliaries and conducted classes in first aid, signalling, truck driving and canteen, clerical and farm work. Membership of the WWSA and affiliated groups exceeded 75,000.

‘As in other countries, thousands of women took wartime jobs in the Government services and in the food, clothing and munitions industries. New Zealand women in employment totalled 230,000 (including 35,000 who worked in war plants), compared with 180,000 in 1939.’

Specific references will be made to the part played by women in various industries, but at this stage a quick look at employment in manufacturing is revealing. Between 1939 and 1942 the number of women engaged in manufacturing increased rapidly from 25,700 to 35,200, a rise of 37 per cent in three years. The number of men, on the other hand, after increases in 1940 and 1941, fell in 1942 and was then less than two thousand above its 1939 level. Whereas in 1939 one would have found only 33 women for every hundred men working in manufacturing, there were 43 women for every hundred men in 1942.

For the remainder of the war, the number of women in manufacturing stayed comparatively stable at between 36,000 and 37,000, but fell post-war to 34,000 in 1946, and remained thereabouts for the next two years. Male employment, on the other hand, started to increase rapidly after 1944 and had reached over 106,000 by 1948.3 At this stage there were 32 women for every hundred men in manuacturing as compared with 43 in 1942 and 33 in 1939. Women replaced men during the war period so that manufacturing page 91 industries could expand and make their contribution to wartime production. In many cases these women yielded place to men in industry when the men returned from the armed services.

Chart 18 shows the changing proportion of women engaged in manufacturing:

chart of employment statistics

Chart 18

1 Figures given for manufacturing employment in this section are those used prior to a statistical reclassification of manufacturing in 1951–52. The years quoted are years ended 31 March.

2 Philip J. Soljak, New Zealand, Pacific Pioneer, p. 141. Soljak was born in New Zealand, domiciled in America and wrote to introduce New Zealand to American readers.

3 Compared with 76,000 in 1939 and 82,000 in 1944.