Participation in the labour market
Changes in women's participation in the labour market over the past 30 years give important context to our later findings on the general attitudes of the public and the personal views of couples about their own circumstances. Behavioural and attitudinal changes often flow in both directions. Thus, more women enter employment as female participation is viewed as more acceptable, and more acceptance follows in the wake of women's increased labour market participation.
Since the early 1980s (when our British Social Attitudes questions on gender roles were first asked), there has been substantial change in the extent and ways in which women have participated within the British labour market. In Figure 5.1 we present data from the Office for National Statistics' Labour Force Survey to show how men and women's participation in the labour market has changed over the past three decades to 2012.
From the mid-1990s, full-time employment for both women and men continued to grow steadily and the gap between men and women's employment is narrowing. The dip for men in the 1980s and early 1990s partly reflects an increasing number of men over 55 taking early retirement (Guillemard, 1989). More recently from 2009 onwards, the dip in both men's and women's full-time employment is associated with the global economic crisis. (The rise in the relatively small numbers of men in part-time employment reflects, in part, increased numbers in higher education, with students supplementing grants with part-time jobs). For women, the growth in full-time employment from the mid-1990s onwards was stronger than the growth in part-time employment. As part-time work is often used by women - and mothers in particular - to juggle family and work responsibilities, it is worth looking more closely at the statistics associated with the work-patterns of women, with and without dependent children.
Women's participation in paid employment has been encouraged by UK and EU policies aimed at reducing barriers to work caused by conflicting work and family life responsibilities (Lewis, 2012). Such policies have gone hand-in-hand with a marked increase in the proportion of mothers in the labour force and a narrowing in the gap between the employment rates of women with and without dependent children such that, in 2010, there was less than one percentage point difference in the participation rates of mothers (66.5 per cent) and women without dependent children (67.3 per cent) (Office for National Statistics, 2011). In 2010, a higher proportion of mothers still worked part-time (37 per cent) rather than full-time (29 per cent), sharing their
time between work and looking after the family.
Our chapter focuses on the division of labour within couple families. For mothers in couple families, where there are increased opportunities to share childcare responsibilities, employment rates were higher (72 per cent in 2010) than for mothers in single-parent families (55 per cent) (Office for National Statistics, 2011). And, unsurprisingly, the Labour Force Survey statistics also show that, as the age of the youngest child in the family increases, so does the proportion of mothers in work.
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- When this question was originally developed in 1984, it asked about "a husband" and "a wife" rather than "a man" and "a woman". This was replaced by a variant of the question using the latter terminology in 1994.
- In 2002 and later years, answer categories were framed with reference to the respondent - "always me", "usually me", "about equal", "usually spouse/partner" and "always spouse/partner". In 1994 and earlier years, response categories were framed with reference to the gender of the individual performing the specific task - "always the woman", "usually the woman", "equal or both", "usually the man" or "always the man". The data presented in Table 5.6 was re-classified for the later years, to reflect the format in which the question was asked in earlier years.
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