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Geoff Dench: Young women put families before careers


The Hera Trust in a report What Women Want 2011 based on data from British Social Attitudes surveys, found that British women had moved away from being enthusiastic about careers and were – once again – giving priority to their families.

There had been a time, about 20 years earlier, when there had been some shift among women towards valuing careers more than family life but this soon petered out. Most politicians appear to think however that it has become mainstream and all of the major parties currently compete to help mothers return to work as soon as possible after birth.

Following that report, the Hera Trust inserted some questions of its own into the BSA survey for 2012 and a new report confirms and intensifies the findings of What Women Want will be out shortly.

It shows that women are indeed increasingly likely to have paid jobs but mainly for family purposes and not to escape from family life. The new Hera questions help to illuminate what is going on, and the 2012 data show that most mothers value having a male main breadwinner when children are small.

In fact, the youngest cohort of mothers share more social attitudes with their grannies than with their (baby-boomer) mothers.

In 2012 just under one in three young women think that a pre-school child suffers if his mother works. This is up by eight percentage points from 2002, nearly twice as many as their mothers’ generation (17%) and more even than their grandmothers’ (28%) with whom they more equate.

When asked the question, “a job is all right, but what most women really want is a home and children” there has been a dramatic shift. The proportion of young women believing that what most women really want is a home and children has doubled in the last 10 years to 30%. This is also double the number of women of their mother’s generation (17%) but not quite as many as their grandmas’ generation (34%).

A further area of interest is how little support there is from women of all ages for mothers to work outside the home full-time when they have pre-school children. Of women aged 18-39 only 4% agreed with this statement, their mothers (always the most liberal) only 7% and of the grandmothers only 3% agreed with this.

These figures are truly startling given the relentless push by the Conservative led government to get more mothers of very young children back to work full-time. There is no support for this from the mothers themselves. Perhaps this is why the Conservatives have problems with women.


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Geoff Dench
Geoff Dench
Geoff Dench is a widely published social scientist and author of Transforming Men and What Women Want

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