A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

3 4 6

New Series Regional I.1

Interviewing was carried out during the period 5th to 19th August, 1942


The purpose of this inquiry was to discover to what extent women engaged in industry were also responsible for household and domestic duties; whether they were having any difficulties with regard to these duties and, if so, what these difficulties were.


44% were married.

43.8% were mainly responsible for housekeeping.

39.6% helped with housework.

42.9% were mainly responsible for household shopping.

25.7% helped with household shopping.

25.6% had difficulties over shopping.

14.8% had children under 14.

A sample of 1097 working women was interviewed.

The sample was purposive insofar as representative numbers of women were selected from the main occupational groups concerned, and in different geographical regions.

Interviews with 642 operatives in factories, 194 shop assistants, 226 office workers and 26 women engaged in transport services, were included. Professional women, domestic servants and women in some smaller occupational groups were not included.

Insofar as age distribution and the number of married and single women interviewed are concerned; the sample was taken at random. It is clear that the age distribution and marital status of the women in the different occupational groups interviewed will have a big effect on the answers given. This fact should be borne in mind when comparing the answers from different occupational groups.

Age groups and the proportions of married, single and widowed were as follows:-

Age % Marital Status %
Under 20 208 19.2 Married 483 44.0
20 - 30 389 35.8 Single 580 52.9
31 - 45 370 34.1 Widowed 34 3.1
Over 45 118 10.9
Total 1085 1097

(Slight discrepancies in totals, here and elsewhere, are due to a few forms being unclassified in some respects. The proportions are not affected).

16.7% of the women were the only wage earners in their families. A further 20.8% were the chief wage earners of families in which others were also working and 62.5% were subsidiary wage earners in their families.

Of the married women 66.5% had no children under 14, 18.4% had one child under 14, and 15% had more than one child under 14.


Question : “Do you have to do the housekeeping at home or help with the housework?”

Mainly responsible for housekeeping 43.8
Help with housework 39.6
Do not do any housework 16.6
Sample: 1097

Thus over 40% of the women were housewives as well as workers, and nearly as many had some domestic duties to carry out as well as doing their jobs.

As might be expected married women, and those in the middle and older age groups, show a higher proportion of housewives than single women and those in the younger groups.

Married & Widowed Single Total
Housewives 74.7 16.6 43.8
Help with housework 17.8 58.7 39.6
Do no housework 7.5 24.7 16.6
Sample: 510 578 1097

It will be seen that over half the single women helped at home and 16% of them were mainly responsible for housekeeping.


Under 20 20 - 30 30 - 45 Over 45 Total
Housewives 3.4 36.2 65.4 72.9 43.8
Help with housework 69.7 45.8 23.5 16.9 39.6
Do no housework 26.9 18.0 11.1 10.2 16.6
Sample: 208 389 370 118 1097

Analysis by occupational group shows some differences. Factory workers are divided into two groups, those employed in engineering, munitions and chemicals, and those employed in other industries such as food and drink, textiles, clothing and other manufacturing industries.

Factory Workers Distributive workers Clerical workers Total
(1) Munitions, etc. (2) Other Industries
Housewives 39.1 ± 5.8 54.2 ± 5.4 41.7 ± 7.2 32.4 ± 6.2 43.8
Help with housework 45 36.9 34.9 42.7 39.6
Do no housework 15.9 8.9 23.4 24.9 16.6
Sample 289 347 192 225 1097

Factory operatives, other than munition workers, show the highest proportion of housewives. It may be noted here that 61% of the women included in this group were in the textile and clothing industries, and that in the regions where these industries are largely centred there is a tendency for housewives to go out to work as well as their husbands, in peacetime as well as in wartime.

Clerical workers show a lower proportion of housewives than other groups, but if the margin of error is taken into account the difference shown is only slight.

Clerical and distributive workers show a higher proportion doing no housework than factory workers.


Question : “Do you do the household shopping or help with it?”

Mainly responsible for shopping 42.9
Help with shopping 25.7
Do no household shopping 31.4
Sample: 1084

The proportion mainly responsible for shopping is comparable to the proportion of housewives (43.8%). However, fewer women help with the shopping than help with the housework (25.7% as against 39.6%) and more do no shopping than do no 5 housework (31.4% as against 16.6%). This is easily understandable since housework can be done at most times of the day or evening, or during the week-end, and shopping only when the shops are open.

Breakdown by married and single women, age groups and occupational groups show similar trends as in the case of housework. The proportions of those mainly responsible for shopping are, in all groups, closely comparable to the proportion of housewives. However, a comparison of the proportions in the different occupational groups who do no housework and no shopping shows some differences.

Factory Workers Distributive workers Clerical workers Total
(1) Munitions etc. (2) Other Industries
Do no shopping 35.3 23.4 40.5 33.7 31.4
Do no housework 15.9 8.9 23.4 24.9 16.6
Sample 289 347 192 225 1084

It will be seen that whereas more clerical and distributive workers than munitions workers do no housework, about as many munitions workers as clerical workers do no shopping. Long hours of work put in by munitions workers may account for this. The other factory workers have the smallest proportion doing nothing with regard to both housework and shopping.

Those who did the shopping, or helped with it, were asked: “Apart from general shortages are you having any difficulties lately?”

% of those who did shopping
Yes 37.2
No 62.8
Sample: 731

It should be noted that shortages of particular commodities were not in themselves counted as “difficulties”. Only difficulties in the organisation of shopping were considered.

The 37.2% having difficulties represents 25% of the whole sample.

Married women, more often mainly responsible for housekeeping than single women, as has been shown, showed a higher proportion having difficulty than single women.

Married Single Total
% of those who did shopping
Yes 43.6 27.6 37.2
No 56.4 72.4 62.8
Sample 438 293 731

These results may be compared with those of an inquiry made in May to June by the Wartime Social Survey, in which the same question was asked of 3,000 housewives who were for the most part doing no other work besides housekeeping:

Yes 18.5
No 81.5

It will be seen that women working in jobs had more difficulty than housewives who were unemployed apart from their domestic duties, and the difference is more marked in the case of working women who are married.

It should be remembered that many of the single women only helped with the shopping and were not mainly responsible for it, whereas 72.3% of the married women were the chief or only shoppers of the family.

There are some differences in different occupational groups.

Factory Workers Distributive workers Clerical workers Total
(1) Munitions etc. (2) Other Industries
% of those who do shopping
Yes 40.0 ± 7.2 35.6 28.5 ± 8.5 43.9 ± 8.1 37.2
No 60.0 64.4 71.5 56.1 62.8
Sample 185 258 112 148 731

Fewer workers in the distributive group experienced shopping difficulties than in other sections. Possibly the fact that the majority of them would be working in marketing districts made shopping easier for them. Most difficulty was experienced amongst clerks and munitions workers. The former, in large towns, often live at some distance from their work. Longer working hours may increase difficulties in the case of munitions workers.

It should be noted, however, that the sample figures are small and the margin of error wide.

Those who were experiencing difficulties were asked what these were. Some mentioned more than one sort of difficulty and the percentages given below therefore add up to more than 100.

% of those having difficulty (37% of those who did shopping)
Not enough time for shopping 30.1
Shops close lunch hour and evenings 25.0
Can only shop on Saturdays 15.4
Shops are so crowded 7.0
Nothing left when I get there 19.8
Miscellaneous 12.5
Sample: 272

The answers, though differing in detail, all amount to the same sort of difficulty. Workers are unable to get to the shops during most of the time that they are open and when they do get there the shops are crowded and sometimes supplies are exhausted.


Those women who had children aged under 14 (14.8% of the whole sample), were asked “Who looks after the children while you are at work?”

% of those with children
Are at school or look after themselves 32.0
Mother (the children’s grandmother) 21.0
Other relations 27.2
Friends or neighbours 14.2
Children are evacuated 5.6
Sample: 162

Thus about two thirds of the mothers left their children in the care of relatives or friends whilst they were at work.

The mothers were asked: “Have you had any difficulty over this?”

15.3% (24 in all) had had difficulty. The majority of these mentioned feeding, and particularly the midday meal, as a problem. Where the children looked after themselves they were too much alone, and it was not always convenient for relations and neighbours to have them. The number mentioning difficulties was not sufficient for the replies to be expressed statistically.

We use cookies to track usage and preferences.

Privacy & Cookie Policy Accept & Close