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Women and Credit Through the Decades: The ’70s

Oct. 3, 2014
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Throughout October, we’ll examine the financial progress women in the United States have made since the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, decade by decade. This installment — the first of five — highlights the progress of the 1970s, the decade when the ECOA was passed and women began to make major strides in the workplace and on television.

Women and credit: ECOA

Women have come a long way in the past century. They earned the right to vote in 1920 and equality in pay in 1963 — theoretically, at least, since the pay gap isn’t closed yet. And October 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which granted women the right to obtain credit cards separate from their husbands.

The ECOA eliminated several shady credit practices of the past, including creditors’ right to discriminate based on race, sex, age, nationality or marital status. It made it illegal for those living in common-law states to be questioned about marital status, although residents of community-property states still can be asked — they just can’t be discriminated against because of their answer.

Before the ECOA was passed, women could be denied access to their own credit cards by issuers. Passage of this act isn’t simply a success in gender equality; it’s also necessary for practical reasons. The idea that single women wouldn’t be able to obtain credit while making an income is absurd enough, but those women who are married and choose to stay home with children should also be able to establish credit. In the event of divorce or death of a spouse, having your own credit is crucial.

» MORE: The History of the Credit Card

Women and finance: Strides in the workplace

Women made other great strides in the ’70s, particularly in the office. In 1977, the courts recognized sexual harassment in the workplace, although it wasn’t defined by the EEOC until 1980. And the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 made it illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant, which was previously common practice.

Both of these accomplishments made it easier for women to thrive in the workplace, which has helped them get to where they are now, with 40% of households with children featuring breadwinning women, according to a study by Pew Research. Of course, this was only the beginning, but the ’70s saw women’s financial progress make its first significant strides.

Women and finance: Pop culture

Pop culture is indicative of the times, and ’70s television brought the issue of gender inequality into the spotlight with shows like “Alice” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “Alice” was about a single mother who had to support herself and her son by working in a diner under a chauvinistic boss. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was about a single working woman in her 30s who had recently ended a relationship with a man whom she financially supported through medical school. Both shows featured episodes about pay inequality, where the eponymous women discovered that their male counterparts made higher salaries than them.

Pop culture in the 1970s showed women as breadwinners, dealing with inequality in the workplace and pay discrimination. Although Alice and Mary were TV characters, they opened up a dialog among women to talk about these once-taboo topics with episodes that could be considered progressive even by today’s standards.

Main takeaways:

  • Forty years ago, the ECOA made it illegal for women to be denied their own credit cards because of gender or marital status.
  • In the same decade, sexual harassment in the workplace was officially recognized, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act made it illegal to fire women for having babies.
  • Pop culture began to highlight issues of gender inequality and showcased strong, independent women seeking to be compensated equally to men in the workplace.

Next week, we’ll talk about women’s financial strides in the 1980s. Does bigger hair equal bigger progress? Come back next Thursday to find out!

Two ’70s women image via Shutterstock.