Women and Paid Work in Industrial Britain, c.1945 - c.1971

  • Laura Paterson

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis is a study of working-class women and their paid employment between the temporal limits c.1945 and c.1971. Centralising women’s experiences, three distinct methodologies – statistical analysis, archival research, and oral history – discretely delivered, explore changing patterns of women’s employment. Four case studies of northern industrial towns and cities – Glasgow, Dundee, Newcastle, and Preston – are used to test the notion of regional distinctiveness and its survival into the twentieth-century.

    Statistical analysis of women’s labour market participation demonstrates convergence of regional differences. Women’s participation in paid work was augmented across the country, and married women became an increasing part of the labour force. In industrial towns which historically employed large numbers of married women, such as Preston and Dundee, women’s experiences converged with those of cities, such as Newcastle and Glasgow, with strong heavy industry traditions. Economic restructuring entailed women’s concentration in service and clerical occupations, compared to manufacturing, such as textiles and ‘light’ engineering. Until 1970 at least, mothers increasingly returned to employment part-time, contrasting with previous generations of female breadwinners who worked full-time.

    The provision of childcare sits at the site of a series of arguments about mother’s employment, maternal deprivation, and social problems. National policy lines were rarely drawn around encouraging women into work. An archival method, exploring local authority nurseries and nursery schools, and private nurseries illustrates meagre provision. Women’s continued use of childminders and informal care evidences a demand for provision which was not adequately met by the state. Oral history interviews found few women used local authority childcare, partly because of stringent admittance criteria and the stigma attached.

    The fundamental argument of this thesis focuses on working-class women and situates their experiences, sense of self, and personal struggles against family and societal expectations at the core of the profound changes in women’s working lives, in contrast to government policy and market economies. Oral history is the final methodology. Original oral history research testifies to work as part of the changing nature of the female self. However, it is emphasised that despite momentous transformation in women’s lives, gendered expectations were a limiting force on women’s ability to break free from a confining domesticity and unsatisfying work.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsCarnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
    SupervisorAnnie Tindley (Supervisor), C. G. Brown (Supervisor) & J. D. Tomlinson (Supervisor)


    • Women
    • Work
    • Employment
    • Oral History
    • Childcare
    • Economic restructuring

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