Changing Lives and New Challenges
Edited by Jacqueline Scott, Shirley Dex and Heather Joshi
Chapter 2: Changes in Women’s Occupations and Occupational Mobility Over 25 Years
Shirley Dex, Kelly Ward and Heather Joshi INTRODUCTION The collection of employment histories in the Women and Employment Survey (WES) in 1980 started to break down the stereotypes still around in the 1970s about women’s careers. The tendency had been to think that a woman’s main role was as a mother, working at domestic tasks. Relatively few women were expected to have employment careers. The term ‘career woman’ was commonly used to describe the few, mainly thought to be single women, in professional occupations and viewed as freaks. What the WES helped to show was that the majority (90 per cent) of women were returning to employment after childbirth and many were attached to their occupations in a way that could be described as having occupational careers, although they were not always able to return to their original occupation after an employment break for childbirth. The WES employment histories also showed that women had a sizeable amount of downward occupational mobility across the break from work for childbirth and this was more likely, the longer they stayed out of work at this point, and if they returned to a part-time job. In the 25 years since the WES was collected and analysed much has changed in the UK labour market. It is time to take stock. This chapter reviews the enormous changes in women’s occupational status that occurred between 1980 and 2005. Cross-sectional data show the extent of this as there were far more women in top occupations in 2001...
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