A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



The attitudes expressed in this section are those held in the circumstances existing in the Autumn of 1943 and particularly in the case of solder’s wives, may be altered to some extent by the events of 1944.

All women interviewed were asked whether they wanted to go on working after the war and a summary of their replies are as follows:-

18. Attitude towards post-war Employment

Yes Full-time 55 60%
Part- time 5
Doubtful If possible 3 20%
May have to 9
Don’t know 8
Not at all 19
Sample: 2609

A minimum of 55% of the women now in employment wish to go on working after the war therefore and a maximum of 80%. An analysis by age and status shows more exactly who those women are.


1. Age and Status

19. Attitude analysed by Age and Status

18-24 25-34 35-44 45-60 All Married All Single+
Married Single + Married Single + Married Single + Married Single +
% % % % % % % % % %
Full-time 24 72 21 74 37 85 36 75 29 75
Part-time 3 1 10 2 11 1 16 4 10 1
If possible 5 1 3 3 6 2 4 4 4 2
May have to 12 7 12 8 9 6 10 9 11 8
Don’t know 12 8 11 5 9 3 10 4 10 6
Not at all 43 10 43 8 27 3 25 4 36 7
Sample: 154 548 439 365 364 292 163 251 1120 1456

+ Including widowed. This group is only important at 45-60 when it is half the sample

It is clear that the married women of 34 and under will be the most reduced group after the war, particularly if part-time employment is not possible. Conversely, that of single women over 35 will be the least reduced group.

Apart from women in the professions, the principal motive for wishing to continue work is economic, but there is an aspect of this pressure in relation to married women with children which requires amplification. The following table shows the difference between the proportion of married women with children and proportion of all married women wishing to continue work.

20. Attitude of married women with children compared with attitude of all married women

All married * women Married with * children
% %
Full-time 29 36
Part-time 10 13
If possible 4 4
May have to 11 14
Don’t know 10 9
Not at all 36 23
Sample 1315 445

* Including widowed women with and without children.

It is clear that the existence of children is a factor causing married women to seek work, but how far this is affected by the number of children is not clear. The sample is not large enough to permit of detailed analysis on this point.

Those who say they will go on working ‘if possible’ give a number of reasons for that qualification. A proportion of the married women say that it will depend on what their husband thinks. This reason apart, the chief factors influencing all the women in this group are the possibility that they will have to look after their family (either children or parents); they might not be wanted when the war is over, and that their health might not permit them to go on.

There is a difference of emphasis between married and single women on the factors influencing them to think they ‘May have to’ continue work after the war which does not appear in the ‘If possible’ group. The married women think principally of what kind of job their husband will have, (38% say this) that is to say, whether or not the wage he receives will be sufficient to support them both, and, less specifically, of economic circumstances in general (37% say this), They will work, in fact, if they consider it necessary for the sake of their children and their home to do so. The single women think principally that they will need the money, (52%of give this opinion), or will be forced to work if they don’t get married, (37% say this), A small number of single women who are engaged to be married say, on the other hand, that whether they work or not depends on the kind of job their husband has.

The women who said they ‘Did not know’ whether they would work or not gave reasons closely related to those above, but were much less certain of how they would be affected by them.

Of the married women who do not propose to go on working, 72% say it is because they have enough to do at home, 9% want to have a family (these are principally between 25 - 34 years old), and 5% don’t want to go on because of age, tiredness and ill-health. Miscellaneous reasons were that there would not be jobs when the men came back, the husband would not like the idea, and that the husband intended to settle down abroad after the war and they would go with him. Two-thirds of the single women who do not intend to go on working are getting married, and the remainder give a miscellany of reasons for not wanting to do so, principally bad health, dislike of work, and have enough to do at home.

As a result of these wishes, the age and status distribution of women in employment after the war should assume the following pattern;

20a. Age & Status of women who wish to work full-time after the war

18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 All Ages
% % % % %
Married 9 26 35 24 23
Single 90 69 56 52 69
Widowed 1 5 9 25 8
430 364 385 245 1424

Rather more married and widowed women would be in employment after the war than before the war, but the principal difference is in age, as a comparison of these groups with those of 1931 show:

Post-war Age grouping 1931 Age grouping
% %
18-24 30 40
25-34 26 27
35-44 27 16
45-59 17 17

In a recent study of the post-war employment of women in the United States * 16 the author concluded that for the United States also a future problem was the increase to be expected in the proportion of middle aged women in employment. His comment may, perhaps, be recorded here: “In competition for jobs, these women will be handicapped by the preference of most employers far younger workers, and it will be comparatively difficult for them to shift into new lines of work during the period of post-war industrial conversions. Careful planning and co-operation on the part of employers, Labour Unions and Governmental Agencies will be necessary to ensure full utilization of the productive capacities of this group of workers, and to prevent the development of a major unemployment problem among them."

[4] THE POST-WAR EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES by John D. Durand International Labour Review - December, 1943.


2. Industry

The foregoing paragraphs have indicated who are the women who propose to go on working, or may do so. What follows is an analysis of what those who definitely propose to go on working. The following table shows in what groups of industry these women are to be found, and what proportion of them wish to carry on with the same job.

21. Intentions of those who propose to work full or part-time after the war analysed by Industry and in two industries by Status

Proportion Employed wishing to work after war Proportion of A wishing to do - x
Same job Other job Can’t say Don’t know All wishing to work No.
Industry Status % % % %
Textiles & Clothes Engineering All 64 84 + 6 7 9 224
Married 44 71 11 16 151
Single 71 52 33 14 273
All 57 60 26 14 425
Distrib. & Transport Married 36 69 19 12 164
Single 79 74 7 19 175
All 57 72 10 18 239
Laundry & Hotel All 60 76 11 13 159
Commerce & Professional All 65 77 11 12 227
Food, Drink Tobacco & Other Manfg. Industries All 61 74 8 18 160
Miscellaneous All 63 79 + 8 9 12 103
All Industry Married 39 77 11 12 444
Single 76 68 14 18 1083
All 2 60 71 13 16 1527

x Insufficient figures are involved in these groups to permit analysis of the kind of job they want to go onto.

2 Excludes Explosives and Chemicals. Figures were too small to permit of separate analysis.

The Textiles and Clothing Industries have for long employed a high proportion of women, and the localisation and specialisation of many of them has meant that in the areas in which they are placed a tradition of work for both married and single women has grown up; a tradition re-inforced in the case of cotton, at least, by the low wages paid to men. This tradition is reflected in the table by the fact that a higher proportion of women in Textiles and Clothes than in any other group of industries, even of comparable age structure, wish to remain in the same industry. Although the number of married women involved is small, it would seem also that a higher proportion than in other industries wish to remain in Textiles and Clothes.

The proportion of women wishing to remain in the Engineering and Metal Industries is lower than in any other industry. It is particularly so with the single women, only half of whom wish to remain in Engineering compared with the average of nearly three-quarters of single women in other industries.

The married women in Engineering are more conservative than the single women, as they are in other industries, partly no doubt because a change of job often necessitates a change of shopping habits and home routine, but again the proportion wishing to stay in Engineering is lower than average.

The overall figures seem to indicate that among single women, at least, and in relation to other jobs, Engineering is still not regarded as a woman’s job.

There are no outstanding differences between the remaining groups. There is, perhaps, a tendency for a lower proportion of married women to wish to remain in Distribution and Transport, and a higher proportion in the Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment Services, than in other industries, but larger numbers would be needed in the sample before it would be possible to say this with certainty.

3. Occupation

Occupation does not seem to have a very great effect upon women’s attitudes toward post-war employment. Professional and Administrative workers, 72% + 7% of whom propose to go on working full-time and Forewomen, 62%±7% of whom propose to to go on working, are the two groups most affected, since these proportions are significantly higher than the average of 55%. The group with the lowest proportion proposing to go on working is that of Labourers and Packers, 46%±8% of whom say they will. It is clear that to a great extent these differences are the effect of the age and status groupings within the occupations, which are detailed in Section I.

4. Training

The effect of training, as defined in this inquiry, on the attitude of women toward post-war employment is not great. 33% + 2% of those who propose to go on working full-time had had training for their work, compared with 28% + 4% of those who do not propose to go on working. Only 17% of those desiring to work part- time had had any training, but 25% + 5% of those thinking that they might have to work, or would do so if possible, had received training. The overall figure was that 62% + 2% of those who had had training of one kind or another wished to go on working full-time compared with 35% of the whole sample.

5. Full-time and Part-time Workers

Of those who are working part-time now, 7% wish to work full-time after the war, 31% wish to go on working part-time, and 35% don’t want to go on working at all. 16% are doubtful, that is, they say “If possible” or “May have to” and 11% don’t know.


6. Region

The principal indications of an analysis of attitudes by Civil Defence Region are that the North and North-Eastern Regions, with 63% + 6% and the North Midland Region with 67%±7%, have a somewhat higher proportion of women wishing to go on working after the war than the average of 55%, and Scotland, with 41% + 6%, and Wales, with 41% + 9 %, a somewhat lower proportion.

These are, of course, expressions of positive views and any attempt to contrast them with negative views is made difficult by the varying proportions in each region which say neither ‘yea’ nor ‘nay’.

The proportion of women saying definitely that they do not propose to go on working is higher than the average of 17% in the Eastern Region, 33% + 8% say this, while the proportion of women in the same Region who are doubtful of what they do is lower than the average of 8%, being in fact, 2% + 4%.

Women are most doubtful of what they will do in Scotland, with 22% + 6%, and in the Southern Region, with 21%±8%, while a higher proportion of women in Wales than elsewhere say they just don’t know what they are going to do.

Taking all trends into consideration, it may be said that in the North, North-East, and North Midlands, the war has had the effect of increasing the proportion of women wishing to remain in employment relatively to other regions, and that in all other Regions save Scotland, the South and Wales, the distribution of attitudes is average, while in those particular Regions the situation is obscured by the high proportions who were doubtful about the future or did not know what they would do.

7. Economic Class

An analysis of attitude by economic class is somewhat obscured by the age and status structure of each group, which differ in these respects. A comparison of the distribution by economic class of those who propose to go on working after the war with the present distribution, however, indicates what the principal changes may be.

22. Comparative distributions by economic class of women working now and those who wish to work full-time after the war.

Women working now Those who wish to work after war
% %
Weekly wage of Chief Wage-Earner Up to £3.12.0. 20 22
£3.12.0 - £5 39 40
Over £5 9 11
Soldiers Wives 19 9
Dependent on own earnings 13 18
Sample: 2609 1440

The principal loss will be from serving soldiers' wives, the principal relative gain from those who are dependent on their own earnings. While soldiers’ wives are proportionately most ready to leave industry they are, at the same time most doubtful about the future. A quarter of them said they might have to work, or did not know what they would do, compared with 10 - 16% of the other groups.

8. The Four Pre-War Occupation Groups.

An analysis by four categories of pre-war occupation indicates the proportions in which the post-war labour force will be drawn from them.

23. Attitude analysed by Pre-War Occupation

Same job now as Pre-War Different job now from Pre-War At Home Pre-War At School Pre-War
% % % %
Full-time 65 57 27 81
Part-time 4 4 11 3
If possible 2 4 6 1
May have to 9 10 9 4
Don’t know 6 8 10 4
Not at all 14 17 37 6
Sample: 1186 687 587 144

The principal point of interest in this table is probably the proportion of those drawn into industry by the war who wish to go on working. Rather more than a quarter propose to do so, while a quarter are doubtful about it. It is noticeable that a higher proportion than average would like to do part-time work. They would probably swell the category of those not intending to work at all if part-time work were not available. Looked at as a proportion of all those intending to work after the war they would comprise 11% of the total.

19 20

9. Work Preferences of Women who had a different job just before the war.

The general movement of women in industry will, no doubt, be affected to some extent by their preferences for one job and industry compared with another. Altogether 685 women in our sample had had experience of different jobs since the beginning of the war, and it seemed worth-while to ascertain what their preferences were and whether they wished to stay in the job they were now doing or go back to another they had done. It was also a check on the attitudes expressed more concretely when they were asked what they wanted to do after the war. The number expressing a desire to do a job of a kind they had never done before was so small that it has been ignored in the calculations that follow.

In all, 56% of those who had had different jobs, preferred the job they were in at the time of the Inquiry, 32% preferred another job they had had and 12% were unable to answer on this point.

Taking each group, that is, those who preferred their present job and those who preferred another job, and analysing whether or not they would like to carry on with the job they prefer or go back to it either now or in peace-time, the following results were obtained:-

Of those who preferred their present job, 87% thought they would like to carry on with it after the war, 7% thought they would not, 6% did not know. Of those who preferred another job, 72% would have liked to have gone back to it, although the greater proportion would have waited until peace-time: 19% would not go back to it, and 9% could not express an opinion. There are indications that those who did not want to go back to, or on with, their jobs, did not want to work at all. A small proportion of those who wanted to go on with, or back to, a job, decided when confronted with the task of making a decision on working after the war, that they did not wish to go on working anyway.

There were no differences caused by age or status so far as the proportions wishing to remain in their jobs, or go back to another, were concerned, while such differences as are discernible in industries and occupations seem to indicate a trend away from the Engineering and Metal Industries and employments toward the peace-time trades of Distribution, Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment, Commerce and the occupations involved in them.

It is of particular interest, perhaps, to note that while 51% of those women in the different job category now engaged in the Engineering and Metal industries propose to remain in them, less than 2% of the women in the same category in other industries express a preference for Engineering. Accordingly, if all those who would prefer to leave Engineering did so, and all those who wished to enter it did so, the proportion of women between the ages of 18 and 59 who have entered these industries since the war began and who would remain in them would be 53. This is a further check on the result already given, since it was obtained by a different approach.

The reasons women gave for preferring one job to another were summarised for all industries.

24. Analysis of reasons, given by women who had had experience of more than one job, for preferring one to another

% %
Near home and friends 2 2
More money, better conditions 28 23
More variety and responsibility 18 15
Better social conditions 23 19
Like job, interesting 38 32
Wanted-War job of National Importance 3 3
Miscellaneous 2 1
Used to it, best at it 7 6
All who specify a preference 579 84
No answer 108 16
All who had different job 687 100 +

+ + Percentages add up to more than 100 because more than one reason could be expressed by each woman. This applies to table 25 also.

Neither age nor status made any significant difference to the reasons expressed, although there is a tendency for those with a post-elementary education to refer more often to “more variety and responsibility”.

10. Work Preferences of Women who were at home just before the War

The consideration already mentioned with regard to those women who were in a different job just before the War prompted similar analysis of the attitudes of women who had not only experienced different jobs but home life as well within the last few years. 523 women in the sample had worked previously to being at home just before the war. 66% + 5% preferred the job they were in at the time of the inquiry to any they had done before, 17% preferred another job, and 17% could not state a preference or were doing a job so similar to those they had done previously that they could not make the necessary comparison.

Of those who preferred their present job 77% would have liked to have carried on with it, 17% would not, and 6% did not know whether they would or not. The number saying they preferred another job was small and all that can be said is that a rather lower proportion than the one given above wished to go back to their old job, and a rather higher proportion did not.

The qualifications made with regard to these statements so far as women with a different job were concerned apply here also. Those who don’t want to go on with, or back to, their jobs, may not want to work at all, while a small proportion of those giving preference decided later that they did not want to work.

In the Engineering and Metal Industries, 80% of those who were at home just before the war would have preferred to remain in them, compared with less than 1% of those outside the Industries who expressed a preference for them. The latter figure would seem to confirm the figure of less than 2% given for women from different jobs, and the hypothesis that few women outside the Engineering and Metal Industries now will wish to enter them in peace-time.

The reasons given by women who were at home just before the war for preferming one job to another were as follows:-

25. Analysis of reasons, given by women at home just before the war who had worked previously, for preferring one job to another

% %
Near home and friends 4 3
More money, better conditions 33 23
More variety and responsibility 16 11
Better social conditions 29 20
Like job, interesting 33 23
Wanted war job of Nat. Importance 2 2
Miscellaneous 2 2
Used to it, best at it 4 3
All who specify a preference 364 =70
No answer 159 =30
All who were at home just before the war 523 100

Those who were able to express a preference appear to have attached greater importance to ‘more money and better working and social conditions” than did the women who were in a different job before the war. Apart from this, there are no difference between the groups. The greater preference for ‘more variety and responsibility’ already noticed among those who had had a post-elementary education exists among these women too.

The striking thing about these analyses of the preferences of women who have changed their jobs since the war began, and the women who came back into industry from their homes, is the close agreement of the views expressed by both groups. Home life appears to have had little influence upon the attitudes toward work of those who left it, The chief difference was that a rather smaller proportion of them expressed preferences.

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