Women in the work force, child care and the role of the family no longer are women's issues but are now national issues that must be addressed, says Grethe Peterson, a member of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women.

Peterson was the keynote speaker at Today's Women, a conference Tuesday in the Provo Excelsior Hotel.

She said a great change is taking place in America's workplaces, and women are the major force behind that change.

"In the past 37 years the number of women in the workplace has tripled, she said. "In 1950, 18 million women were in the work force. In 1987, 53 million women were in the work force."

The increase has had a tremendous impact on the economy and the lives of every American, she said.

Peterson said that after World War II more women entered the work force. Before and during the war, women married young, so their children grew up and were leaving home while these women were still in their late 30s and early 40s.

In the 1950s and '60s women were acquiring labor-saving devices, were better educated and were becoming more aware of their role in society.

"The rebirth of the women's movement in the 1960s had a tremendous impact. It was radical and scary. I didn't like that," Peterson said.

Peterson noted a parallel between the increase of women in the work force and the rapid rise in the divorce rate.

"From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s the divorce rate doubled. It has leveled off through the '80s, but still, half of all marriages end in divorce."

Now, women are not only working, but one of four are heads of households and many are prime money earners.

So with many women working, who is caring for the children?

"Two-thirds of all married couples have both parents in the work force," Peterson said. "Sixty percent of mothers with small children work, and 60 percent of working mothers are single parents."

This has made for a national crisis, said Peterson, who called it a "trilema".

"It is a trilema because we have limited availability of day care, it is very expensive, and the quality needs to improve."

"Ten million preschoolers, in their most critical developmental years, are in some kind of child care program," she said.

Although many women work, they still consider themselves the primary nurturers in their homes. Women feel the need to raise the children, do the ironing, make the beds and clean too. It is a tremendous load to still carry those responsibilities while working, Peterson said.

"Some couples divide domestic responsibilities, but most don't. Maybe we are trying to do it all."

Because of these work pressures and the new problems it brings to family life, it is now necessary for employers to become involved with how employees spend their personal time and to start caring about these pressures.

"Corporate America is now looking at how to help families and family life," she said. "The attitude is that the company does care about their employees, they see it in their better interest to care about families. Caring companies are finding less turnover as they help employees."

Businesses must address several issues if they plan to be successful, Peterson said.

*****

Additional Information

Utah women and the changing work force

By the year 2000:

Sixty-two percent of Utah women 16 or older will be in the work force.

Women will account for 45 percent of the work force.

Seventy percent of the women in that work force will be widows, never married, separated, divorced or married to a man whose earnings are below the poverty level.

Source: Utah Department of Employment Security