Most young women retain a traditional view of family life

Mar 12 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Over half of young women see the ideal family situation as one where mothers either work part-time or not at all. And despite being better educated and enjoying wider career opportunities than previous generations, they also continue to take responsibility for most housework and childcare.

Young male and female workers are also divided between a minority of ‘stay at home’ types with little education and a majority of adaptable careerists who move to find the right job.

These are among the findings of a study by sociologists at the University of Bristol. The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is based on a survey of 1,100 young people aged 20-34 in Bristol, and interviewers with local employers.

Prof Steve Fenton, co-author of the report says: “There is a lot said these days about the way in which the labour market is changing. Globalisation is forcing the workforce to become more adaptable, and many young people are responding enthusiastically to such challenges. But their attitude is shaped by their social class and the level of their education. There are a significant number of young people who have no wish to move beyond the community where they were brought up, perhaps because of family ties. And many young women have a surprisingly traditional view of the place of mothers in the workplace.”

Family plays a major role in where young adults fit into the labour market. Those from professional backgrounds not only go to university, but 83 per cent receive financial support from their parents for their education. The same is true for only 29 per cent of those from social class 3. Among those working in the least advantaged zones of Bristol, two-thirds had gone to city secondary schools. But in the most advantaged parts of the city, this was true of only one in six respondents. These high achievers work longer hours, earn more, defer marriage and expect to have a continued successful career.

Many who stay near their family home are young women who wish to remain close to their mothers. And although many young women speak of career plans, they are more likely to see friends, partners and children as more important. Over half the young women interviewed supported a traditional view of family life: a quarter said the ideal was ‘father working, mother not’ while a further 38 per cent said it was ‘father working, mother part-time’.

The researchers categorised young workers under four headings: · Stickers take a job and keep it - many are university educated in higher occupations. · Shifters move from job to job (or employer to employer) and are highly mobile, but their jobs tend to be low paid. · Settlers move around for quite a long time, but eventually settle on a job they enjoy and which they do well. · Switchers follow a distinct job pattern, but then make a dramatic switch.

The researchers found that while a significant number of young people conformed to a ‘standard’ career pattern of good education, training for a career, getting a job and doing well, there were others who drifted through many jobs before finding the right one. These successful young adults are joined by others who retrain later in life or opt for alternative careers in the voluntary sector, entertainment or the religious life.

But the report’s authors also found that a significant minority lost out in the labour market as a result of childhood disadvantage, poor results at school, early leaving, racism, bullying, family unemployment and disruption or illness. In such mode there may be a lot of job shifting early on followed by long-term unemployment and involvement in the informal economy. Others may drift into unemployment or casual work after an accident, sudden illness, parental death, marriage break-up or falling into debt.

Most young adults adapt and are optimistic about their ability to do so. But others say they are happy to stay in the community where they grew up, perhaps because they wish to remain close to family or to stay within an ethnic group. The labour market among these young people is very different from that in which most young adults work.

Prof Harriet Bradley, co-author of the report adds: “Most young adults we spoke to were confident about their career patterns and optimistic about their futures. They displayed a surprising willingness to adapt and shift jobs, but did not show the sort of insecurity which some commentators suggest comes with such transience. That is not to deny that a minority are pessimistic and even despairing. But it does suggest that flexibility is accepted and used by most.

“Some policymakers in government may welcome such adaptability, but will be more worried by the continuing persistence of social class as a determinant of future success. There are some heartening exceptions, of course, but class remains highly significant in deciding what sort of education and career pattern young adults will follow.”