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Women’s workplace participation soars

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Almost three-quarters of mothers now work outside the home, up from around 50% in 1975, according to statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The strongest growth in maternal employment is in those with children of pre-school or primary-school age, as well as single mothers.

Overall, the employment rate among women of ‘prime working age’ (aged 25-54) is up from 57% in 1975 to a record high of 78% in 2017.

This is partly because women are cohabiting and having children less often, and later in life. The share of women living with a partner or spouse by age 25 has fallen from more than 80% for women born in the 1940s to less than 60% for women born in the 1970s.

Women are also less likely to drop out of the workforce when they have their first child, and more likely to stay in paid work afterwards. Only 41% of women born in 1958 were still in work two years after the birth of their first child, this figure was 58% for women born in 1970.

Overall, the proportion of couples with children where only one adult works has almost halved (down from 47% in 1975 to 27% in 2015) and the proportion where both work has increased from 49% to 68%. This appears to be choice as well as necessity – increases in maternal employment have been largest among the partners of higher-earning men.

However, London is falling behind, potentially because of its higher childcare costs. In 1975, London’s employment rate among women aged 25-54 was the highest in the UK, at 63%. By the mid-2000s, it had been overtaken by every other region in spite of strong employment growth.

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