GRE Reading Comprehension
It is frequently assumed that the mechanization of work has a revolutionary effect on the lives of the people who operate the new machines and on the society into which the machines have been introduced. For example, it has been suggested that the employment of women in industry took them out of the household, their traditional sphere, and fundamentally altered their position in society. In the nineteenth century, when women began to enter factories, Jules Simon, a French politician, warned that by doing so, women would give up their femininity. Friedrich Engels, however, predicted that women would be liberated from the "social, legal, and economic subordination" of the family by technological developments that made possible the recruitment of "the whole female sex into public industry." Observers thus differed concerning the social desirability of mechanization's effects, but they agreed that it would transform women's lives.
Historians, particularly those investigating the history of women, now seriously question this assumption of transforming power. They conclude that such dramatic technological innovations as the spinning jenny, the sewing machine, the typewriter, and the vacuum cleaner have not resulted in equally dramatic social changes in women's economic position or in the prevailing evaluation of women's work. The employment of young women in textile mills during the Industrial Revolution was largely an extension of an older pattern of employment of young, single women as domestics. It was not the change in office technology, but rather the separation of secretarial work, previously seen as an apprenticeship for beginning managers, from administrative work that in the 1880's created a new class of "dead-end" jobs, thenceforth considered "women's work." The increase in the numbers of married women employed outside the home in the twentieth century had less to do with the mechanization of housework and an increase in leisure time for these women than it did with their own economic necessity and with high marriage rates that shrank the available pool of single women workers, previously, in many cases, the only women employers would hire.
Women's work has changed considerably in the past 200 years, moving from the household to the office or the factory, and later becoming mostly white-collar instead of blue-collar work. Fundamentally, however, the conditions under which women work have changed little since before the Industrial Revolution: the segregation of occupations by gender, lower pay for women as a group, jobs that require relatively low levels of skill and offer women little opportunity for advancement all persist, while women's household labor remains demanding. Recent historical investigation has led to a major revision of the notion that technology is always inherently revolutionary in its effects on society. Mechanization may even have slowed any change in the traditional position of women both in the labor market and in the home.
Which of the following statements best summarizes the main idea of the passage?
- A The effects of the mechanization of women's work have not borne out the frequently held assumption that new technology is inherently revolutionary.
- B Recent studies have shown that mechanization revolutionizes a society's traditional values and the customary roles of its members.
- C Mechanization has caused the nature of women's work to change since the Industrial Revolution.
- D The mechanization of work creates whole new classes of jobs that did not previously exist.
- E The mechanization of women's work, while extremely revolutionary it its effects, has not, on the whole, had the deleterious effects that some critics had feared.
Correct Answer: A