A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



The previous two sections have dealt with particular aspects of the employment of women. In the following pages an attempt has been made to record something of what women think about employment for themselves in general, after marriage and in relation to the employment of men. It must be remembered, however, that these views were expressed in the particular circumstances existing at the time of the interview, that is, with the pressure of war-time circumstances upon them with all the doubts about the future which the service of husbands and prospective husbands in the armed Forces must bring, and with the somewhat different pressures of peace-time employment largely forgotten.


1. The advantages of work

All women were asked what they thought were the advantages and disadvantages of work to themselves . The question about advantages was asked first because it was thought by those who conducted the preliminary inquiries into the problem, that if disadvantages were asked for first, they would swamp the advantages. Again the primary advantage of work to most women, the economic gain resulting from it, is so obvious that it is quite possible that many women have given secondary reasons only.

The advantages women saw in working were as follows:-

26. The advantages of Work

% those who specify advantage % to whole sample
Money helps out 49 43
Company, never lonely 48 43
More independence 19 16
Social experience 12 10
Home becomes monotonous 8 7
Miscellaneous reasons 1 1
All who specify an advantage 2313 89
No advantages 3
Don’t know 3
No answer 5
Sample 2609 x

x Percentages add up to more than 100 because more than one reason can be expressed by each woman. This applies to tables 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 also.

Money and the company one has while working were the principal advantages women found in work. The monotony of home category could possibly be added to ‘company’ to make easily the most important aspect of work apart from money.

What is meant by Social Experience is best summed up by the following remarks: “Work gives you plenty to think about and you get other people’s views” and “It broadens your outlook, you can play a part in the affairs of the nations because your experience is widened and it gives you opportunities of meeting interesting people”.

Those who spoke of the monotony of home said, among other things, “You don’t get melancholy at work, as at home” and “Days are long when husband and children are out all day”.

Miscellaneous reasons were that one must use one’s talents, that a trade one has learned is always useful, and that work makes one take more care of one’s appearance.

There were some differences between the attitudes of single women and married women, and between the younger single women and the older single women.

27 Advantages of work to married and single women, and single women of two age groups, compared

18-34 Single women 35-59 All ages Married women All ages
% % % %
Money helps out 35 52 41 59
Company, never lonely 47 46 46 50
More independence 26 22 25 10
Social experience 18 11 15 7
Home monotonous 10 3 7 8
Miscellaneous 2 1 2 1
All who specify an advantage 802 474 1276 1015

The married women thought more often of the company and the money than did the single women, who were more concerned than the married women with social experience and independence, although the latter means financial independence. Rather more married than single women saw no advantage in work.

The younger single women were influenced mainly by social experience, independence and escape from the monotony of the home, compared with the older single women who were influenced more by the money, as much by the company, and less by other advantages.

The women with a post-elementary education were proportionately more influenced by independence and experience, (22% + 4% and 21% gave these as advantages) than the women with an elementary education, (17% and 9% of whom gave these as advantages). On the other hand, 53% of the women with an elementary education gave money as an advantage compared with 38% of those who had had a post-elementary education.

28. Advantages of work analysed by Economic Class

Up to £3.12.0 £3.12.0- £5.0.0 Over £5.0.0 Soldiers' Wives Dependent on own earnings
% % % % %
Money helps out 49 48 29 62 48
Company, never lonely 48 47 53 49 45
More independence 48 20 25 10 23
Social experience 8 13 23 8 10
Home monotonous 7 9 6 7 6
Miscellaneous 2 1 3 3 5
All who specify an advantage 443 895 216 303 456

A comparison of the lower economic groups shows few differences between them. In the upper economic group, sharper differences appear. The advantages of independence and social experience are proportionately more important to the higher income group than the others, while the advantage of money is less important. In all groups, however, a high proportion speak of the advantage of company. Among the group of soldiers' wives, and group of women who are dependent on their own earnings, the latter are only remarkable for the proportion speaking of independence, while the soldiers’ wives see money as an advantage to a proportionately greater extent than any other group, and mention independence comparatively infrequently.

23 24

2. The disadvantages of work

Any discussion of the disadvantages of work to women must necessarily resolve itself into a discussion of the disadvantages to married women and to single women separately. A summary of the disadvantages given by all groups together may, however, provide a key to what follows:-

29. The disadvantages of Work

% to those who specify disadvantage % to whole sample
Industrial conditions 28 13
Shopping difficulties 22 10
Housework 13 6
No time for husband, children, home life 11 5
No time for leisure and study 11 5
Too much to do all round 18 9
Tiredness in general 7 3
Miscellaneous reasons 7 3
All who specify a disadvantage 1221 47
No disadvantages 45
Don’t know 3
No answer 5
Sample 2609

Industrial conditions, the biggest single factor, were analysed further. They were principally expressed as long hours, 50%; transport troubles, and, in some cases, being away from home, 28%; monotonous and tiring work, 15%; Pay, 12%; and work room conditions, dirt and grease, and food difficulties.

The phrase ‘too much to do all round’ is an expression of the demands made by doing both housework and a job, looking after a husband, coping with the intensified difficulties of living and, in general, the feeling of not being able to keep abreast of all that is required of one.

Miscellaneous reasons were mainly, early risings, working in all weathers, effect on health, the inability to stay at home and have children, and the difficulties which arise with husbands and other men through the relative independence a woman gains from work.

As in the discussion of advantages of work, the main differences of opinion were between the younger single women and the older single women, and the single women and the married women.

30. Disadvantages of work to married and single women, and single women of two age groups

18-34 Single Women 35-59 All Ages Married Women All ages
% % % %
Industrial conditions 46 34 41 16
Shopping Difficulties 7 16 11 32
Housework 3 9 5 19
No time for home life, husband, children 5 5 5 16
No time for leisure and study 18 18 18 5
Too much to do all round 9 16 12 24
Tiredness in general 7 11 8 7
Miscellaneous reasons 13 9 11 2
All who specify a disadvantage 317 247 564 641

The disadvantage of ‘industrial conditions’ is proportionately most important to single women, particularly those under 35. It would seem, in fact, that the disadvantages attending shopping and housework are such that for the married women they outweigh all others, since it is improbable that their hours, pay and working conditions differ from those of the single women. A lower proportion of married women than single women refer to lack of time for leisure and study, but a higher proportion to having too much to do all round.

It may be possible to generalise from these figures by saying that to the single woman work is disadvantageous when it conflicts with her comfort and private interests, but to a married woman it is disadvantageous when it conflicts with her responsibilities to her home. In that larger conflict her personal comfort and interests are pushed into the background.

There are few educational differences in the opinions expressed, save where leisure and time for study are concerned, 20% of those with a post-elementary education gave lack of time for leisure and study as a disadvantage, compared with 8% of those with an elementary education.

An analysis by economic classifications shows that the upper income groups refers more often to lack of time for leisure and study than the other groups, and less often to shopping and household difficulties. The soldiers' wives follow closely the pattern for married women detailed in the above table, while of the women dependent on their own earnings, 40% find disadvantages in work, compared with 50% of soldiers wives.

Comparing advantages with disadvantages the first point to be noticed is that while 89% of all women could find advantages in work, only 47% could find disadvantages. On the other hand, disadvantages spread over a wider field and may have been more intensely felt.

Money, and independence, which may be bracketed with money since financial independence is meant, and company, are the advantages of work felt by the major proportion of all women, 49% and 19% of whom refer to money and independence, and 43% to company. It is possible too that the advantage of money was not stated by all who felt it. Thus, money is overwhelmingly the main advantage of work to women.

The chief disadvantage of work, industrial conditions, is perhaps the logical opposite to money, but only 13% of all women refer to them, and, in any case, fewer women refer to all the disadvantages of work than to the one advantage of money alone.

If company and escape from the monotony of home are similarly set against the disadvantages connected with home responsibilities and wishes, that is, shopping difficulties, housework, and no time for home-life, husband and children a greater proportion of all women are influenced by the advantages than the disadvantages.

Among those who specifically mention advantages and disadvantages, however, there are clear differences caused by age and status. It seems that a woman’s attitude towards work changes with marriage and/or advancing age, and that accordingly, the weight of advantage to disadvantage, as judged by frequency and kind of response to one or the other, alters also. Money becomes more important to the single woman as she grows older, and the industrial conditions less important, but to the married woman at all ages money is the important thing, and it is balanced in her mind, not against industrial conditions, but against the difficulties which arise when she has insufficient time to spend on her home.

Altogether the comparisons suggest that in the circumstances existing in Autumn 1943 the advantages of work to women outweighed the disadvantages.

The implications of the reasons why this was the case are not so satisfactory however. It would seem of particular interest that so large a proportion of women should see money as the chief, in some cases sole, advantage of work and it may be significant that it is more so among women doing operative and labouring jobs than among those in clerical, distributive and administrative jobs. The suggestion is that the women doing the operative jobs find considerably less satisfaction in them than do those in clerical and other jobs. Amomg all women little was said about the particular job they were doing, the stress was laid on the advantages which arose from the fact that it was done in company with others.


3. Choice of Work

In the past, women have been limited in their choice of work. Discussing what they had done prior to the war, it was possible to discover both from those who are in different jobs now, or were at home before the war, whether they had been able to choose their peace-time jobs to suit themselves. Any kind of pressure, from family or industrial conditions, was regarded as having prevented choice. The replies of both groups reflect the homogeneity of their industrial experiences in the years between this war and the last.

31. Analysis of choice exercised by two groups of women when selecting their last pre-war jobs

Women with different job now from before the war Women at home before the war who had worked previously
% %
Chose pre-war job 74 71
Had no choice 24 24
Could not remember 1 2
No answer 1 413
569 413

There were no differences caused by age or status, but in both groups those with a post-elementary education exercised choice to a greater extent than those with and elementary education.

32. Reasons of those who exercised choice for choosing last pre-war job

Women with different job now from before the war Women at home before the war who had worked previously
% %
Like the job and people in it 55 49
Near home 19 18
Better conditions of work 5 6
Wanted a change 5 4
Wanted to learn a trade 2 1
A woman’s job 1 5
Miscellaneous 3 1
No particular reason 5 9
No answer 5 6
509 373

Nearly half the women who exercised choice chose their last pre-war job because they liked it and the people in it. The two reasons were almost inseparable. Experiments in the United States * have indicated that industrial plants have a strong social structure of their own, and that the social activities of the groups involved have a life and direction of their own, producing sentiments which, at their most satisfactory, become blended with attitudes toward the job being done. One of the men involved has said, “The desire for continuous and intimate collaboration and association in work with others remains a strong, possibly the strongest, human capacity”.

The next most important reason for choice was nearness to home. All other reasons for choice were not mentioned so frequently as this latter reason alone.

Some pressure from economic circumstances and from the requirements of home is suggested by the fact that married women, and women with an elementary education, chose their job because it was near home to a greater extent than did the single women and those with a post-elementary education, a great proportion of whom choose their job because they liked it and the people in it. So far as choice is concerned, therefore, the woman in clerical jobs and other jobs of that nature, might be expected to be more satisfied with them, having exercised a somewhat greater choice than those in operative jobs.

The fact that one woman in four had no choice so far as the last job she was doing before the war was concerned, and that reasons given for choice were narrow and not necessarily dependent on the job, suggests that even those who chose their jobs had to do so in a limited field with a corresponding reduction in the wishes they could reasonably entertain.

The advantages a woman sees in work, and the kind of choice she will exercise also depend very largely on whether she is concerned with making a career for herself or not. This is particularly true of the married women and the poorer women, for both of whom there are few opportunities for a career. The evidence suggests that for them, at least, having a job to ease their economic circumstances is the important thing, that the kind of job doesn’t matter greatly, and that she exercises choice when she can to make work more convenient and palatable to her. A discussion on choice of work can only be made conclusive, therefore, if it is known whether, given a greater choice, women would prefer to marry and/or stay at home, rather than work.** The reasons for choice of job given by women who were working would then bear a direct relationship to their attitudes toward work as a whole, a relationship which is not evident in the above tables.

[9] See “Management and the Worker” Roethlesberger & Dickson: Harvard.


4. Work after marriage

A direct question on this subject, asking all women what they thought about working after marriage, indicated considerable differences of opinion between married and single and widowed women on the policy of work after marriage. At the same time, it gave more details of the family considerations involved.

The opinion of all women can be summed up roughly in four groups. The first group did not believe in work after marriage, considering that a woman’s place was in the home, and only financial necessity justified work for a married woman. They were 58% of all women. The second group thought that a double wage helped to build up the home, and that it was all right if home and children were not neglected. They were 19% of all women. The third group thought work after marriage kept a woman young and intelligent, and enabled her to be independent and save a bit. They were 12% of all women. The last group thought it depended on circumstances, whether work was liked or not. They were 9% of all women. There was in addition a group of 3% who gave miscellaneous opinions, such as, ‘single girls should be given first chance’, ‘always had to work, never thought about it’, and ‘all right when you are young and both husband and wife are of the same mind about it.

There are age differences as well as differences between married and single and widowed women.

** A Fortune poll conducted in the United States in August, 1943 asked women aged 20 - 35 their attitudes toward marriage and work, with the following results.

Would rather be unmarried and have a successful career 6.2%
Married and have a successful career besides 17.8
Married and run a home 74.0
Don’t know 2.0

The employment of women has always been less in the United States than in Great Britain, however, and this may affect the results of a similar question asked here.

33. Opinions about work after Marriage analysed by Age and Status

Married All Married Single & Widowed All Single
18-34 35-59 18-34 35-59
% % % % % %
Don’t believe in it. A women’s place is in the home. 26 21 24 35 34 35
Don’t believe in it in peace-time 7 4 5 8 6 7
Mustn’t do a man out of his job in peace-time 1 1 1 1 1 1
Should not work unless financial necessity compels it 15 13 14 17 23 20
Working people need double wage - helps to build home 8 9 9 3 2 3
All right if no children: no ties or home and children not neglected 15 20 17 12 9 11
Good: Keeps you young & intelligent 6 8 7 3 1 2
Approve: can be independent and save 10 12 11 7 6 7
Depends on circumstances 8 9 8 9 10 9
Miscellaneous reasons 3 3 3 2 4 2
No answer 1 1 1 4 3 3
Sample 593 527 1120 913 543 1456

63% of single and widowed women disapprove of work after marriage, compared with 44% of married women. The difference in emphasis arises, perhaps, from a lack of appreciation on the part of the single women of the frequent necessity of work after marriage. They say that a women should not work unless necessity compels it, that a woman’s place is in the home, whereas the married woman lays less stress on these things and more on the fact that working people need the double wage. It is significant however, in view of the previous tables, that 20% of single women and 14% of married women should have qualified their disapproval of work after marriage by referring to the possibility of financial necessity enforcing it.

14% of single women give a qualified approval of work after marriage compared with 26% of married women, and 9% give an unqualified approval, compared with 18% of married women.

The older married women and the young single women are on the whole most tolerant of work after marriage; younger married women and older single women least tolerant.

Roughly equal proportions of married woman, 6%, and single women, 8%, bow to wartime necessity but disapprove of married women working in peace-time.

The education a woman has received has little affect on these opinions, presumably because they are a product of hard experience. 36% + 4% of women with a post-elementary education disapprove wholly of work after marriage, compared with 29% of women with an elementary education. Again, those with a post-elementary education are proportionately less inclined to think work is all right if home and children are not neglected, and more inclined to think it depends on circumstances. An explanation of these differences, slight as they are, may be that the economic pressures are greatest upon the women with an elementary education. An analysis by economic class shows, in fact, that the lower income groups disapprove less than the upper income groups of work after marriage.


5. Who should have the job - men or women, or best at it?

Any discussion of the employment of women cannot avoid some mention, at least, of their work-relationship with men. Dilution with women has been accepted in many trades and industries only because of wartime necessity, but it has meant that women are doing a wider range of jobs, with, perhaps, a higher level of skill. In view of this it seemed of very relevant interest to problems of post-war employment and what women will feel about it, to attempt to discover how they rated themselves industrially in comparison with men. For this purpose they were asked whether, if a job were open to both a man and a woman, it should go the the man anyway or to the one best at it. It should be remembered here that many women consider that there are jobs which are traditionally men’s and jobs which are traditionally women’s. Technological advances are tending to blur these distinctions, however, and it is in those fields where a job can be either a man’s or a woman’s that the opinions they express are most important. The qualifications they made to their replies were many, however, and the situation may be less clear cut than appears in the following table.

34. Analysis by age and sex of attitude toward employment. in relation to men

Married All married Single & Widowed All single All Women All ages
18-34 35-59 18-34 35-59
% % % % % % %
Man should have job anyway 50 54 52 29 29 29 39
Best at it should have job 36 27 32 54 51 53 44
Undecided 12 15 14 12 16 14 14
Don’t know 2 2 2 4 4 3 3
Sample: 593 527 1120 916 543 1459 2579

Ignoring the fact that an equal proportion of women are ‘undecided’, it is clear that married and single women are diametrically opposed to each other in their attitudes toward employment in relation to men. Half the married women say the men should have the job anyway, half the single women say it should go to the person who is best at the job. The older married women are somewhat more conservative than the younger married women, otherwise there are no age differences.

Most of those who said ‘Man anyway’ explained that it was because a man was usually married, and had a family and more responsibilities than the woman. Some qualified these statements, however, by saying that if the woman had equal responsibilities, if she were single and had to look after herself, for instance, she should be given an equal chance.

1 Those who said ‘best for the job’ considered women were as good as men at most jobs they tried for, and that it should always be a matter of skill, irrespective of sex. In some instances this was qualified by the remark that if the man was married and out of work, and the woman had fewer responsibilities, it should go to the man.

Those who were ‘undecided’ considered all these points, and raised other, such as ‘woman shouldn’t compete in some jobs, and men shouldn’t compete in others’ and ‘men take responsibilty more easily and should be preferred to a woman when it is involved’.

In general, while most women thought a job should go to the person best suited to it when a single man and single woman were in competition, they recognised the necessity of the married man or woman with responsibilities of her own, and were prepared to acknowledge it. The key to this attitude is, of course, their unspoken assumption that the choice is not between one job and another, but between a job and unemployment.

As a footnote, it may be said that the amount of friction between men and women working together is very small. 61% of the sample worked in close contact with men on their job, and a considerable proportion of the rest had had experience of doing so in the past. 44% of all women thought that men and women got on very well together in their work, 40% thought they got on all right, while only 4% thought they did not get on well. 9% did not work, and had never worked with men, while 3% did not answer the question. Thus 84% of all women, and 96% of the women who worked with men, or had done so in the past, and answered the question, thought men and women got on very well together or, at least, all right.

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