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Women, Work and Childcare: An Intergenerational Study of Two Generations of Mothers

By Henrietta Sophie Scarlett O'Connor


The rapid increase in the rate of female participation in the labour market in the post-war period is a well-documented trend. However, the experiences of mothers balancing paid work and childcare responsibilities have received academic attention only in recent decades. Working class mothers, who have a long history of combining paid work and domestic responsibilities, have been neglected in the literature. There has also been a lack of research examining the impact of intergenerational transmission on the values and practices of mothers within families. This thesis addresses this gap by examining the childcare strategies of two cohorts of working women: grandmothers and mothers.\ud Grandmothers and mothers in fourteen family chains were interviewed and their strategies for combining paid work and domestic responsibilities were examined. It is argued that these strategies have changed across time and the complexity of childcare strategies has declined reflecting changes in government policy. The younger generation have benefited from policy changes aimed at encouraging mothers to return to the labour market.\ud It is also argued that the role of intergenerational transmission is of key importance in understanding mothers' decisions about combining work and childcare responsibilities. Indeed, the behaviour of mothers was influenced by their own mothers' actions, either positively, by 'mimicking' their role or negatively, by avoiding the reproduction of their mothers' behaviour.\ud Whilst intergenerational ties were found to be important, the role of grandmothers as providers of childcare was not as important as argued elsewhere. An important finding of the thesis is that very few grandmothers provided childcare because most continued to be economically active.\ud It is concluded that the changes to policy stemming from the Labour government's National Childcare Strategy have had a positive impact on working mothers' lives but further changes are still necessary to address the childcare needs of all families

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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