Headlines: June 30th, 2003

Most women reduce their commitment to careers when they marry according to a report from the Centre for Policy Studies based on research carried out at the London School of Economics. The report says that while many women see their priority as spending time with their children, Government policies are designed to drive them into full-time work.The report, ‘Choosing to be Different – women, work and the family’, by Jill Kirby, challenges what she calls the prevailing fallacy that men and women are interchangeable in their aspirations for work and family life. Using research by Dr Catherine Hakim, she says women have no difficulty in regarding themselves as equal to men, but they have different life-goals.

The research shows that the majority of modern women expect to, and do, reduce their level of career commitment on marriage. Only 22% of wives under 40 consider themselves to be the main breadwinner, compared to 93% of husbands. Men are far more likely than women to see themselves as ‘work-centred.’ Women are using the opportunities provided by a diverse, equal-access job market, but do not want to be ruled by their work. The report says these attitudes are similar across all social and educational backgrounds.

Jill Kirby says the evidence shows that many women want to prioritise time with their children but that Government policy is aimed at driving mothers into full-time employment. She says this is being done through a target-driven and interventionist approach to work-life policies and the care of young children. She gives the example of the Child Tax Credit which entitles a family with two children and an annual income of £25,000 a year, to £545 a year in credits. If the same family uses registered day care they will also be entitled to Childcare Tax Credit of £7,030 per annum, to offset the cost of that care.

The report argues that the underlying approach behind Government policy in this area actually ignores the preferences of most women and their families. Jill Kirby says policies for work-life balance, childcare and pensions, all entail significant public spending and wide-ranging legislation and all have potentially serious consequences for women, their families and their long-term security. She says such policies should be based on real life and not social engineering.