A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



Any consideration of the effects of the war upon the employment of women or any attempt to estimate what effect the war will have upon their post-war employment, must necessarily be based upon an analysis of the labour force which women represent. The following section attempts to show who the women in civilian employment at Autumn 1943 were, in what industries and occupations they were engaged, and from what groups in society they were drawn.

1. Age and Status of Employed Women

1. Analysis of four age-groups by Status

Status 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 All Ages
% % % %
Married 22 55 55 39 43
Single 77 42 38 36 49
Widowed and Divorced 1 3 7 24 7
Sample: 702 804 656 414 2576

There are two striking aspects of this table. The first is the very high proportion of married women in each age group. The second the high proportion of women who are in the age group 35-44. This suggests that the average age of women in civilian employment is considerably higher than it was before the war.

The enrolment of younger women in the Women’s Services, and the policy of the Ministry of Labour with regard to the recruitment to industry of married women and older women, both account for this severe modification of the customary pattern of women’s employment, but in addition there are probably economic pressures arising out of the war itself which have influenced it also, A particular case is that of the serving soldier’s wife.


2. Industry

The industries in which women are engaged principally are represented in this inquiry as follows:-

2. Employment of Women 18-59 analysed by Industry

Textiles & Clothes 14
Food, Drink, Tobacco 5
Other Manufacturing Industry 5
Engineering & Metal Industry 29
Distribution & Transport 16
Laundry, Hotel & Entertainment 10
Commerce & Professions 13
Miscellaneous 8
Sample: 2609

This distribution is a product of the concentration of some industries, in particular the Textile, Boot and Shoe, and some food manufacturing industries; the withdrawal of younger women from retail distribution and commerce; and mobilization; all the labour so obtained having been transferred to munitions. This policy is reflected in the age-grouping of industries most affected by it when compared with the age-grouping of other industries.

1 The discrepancy between this figure and the total number of interviews obtained is due to a number of schedules being unclassified.

2 Appendix 1 contains a list of the Industries included in these groups.

3. Analysis of Age groups by Industry

Industry Age
18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 Sample
% % % %
Textiles and Clothes, Distribution and Transport Laundry, Hotel, Entertainment, Commerce and Prof. 19 31 30 20 1368 100%
Engineering and Metal Ind., Other Mfng. Ind., Food, Drink, Tobacco Mfr. Misc. 36 33 20 11 1208 100%
All industries 27 31 25 16 2576 100%

The large all round increase in the number of married women in employment seems to have smoothed out pre-war differences between the industries in this respect. The only significant deviation from the average of 43% appears to be in the group of ‘Other Manufacturing Industries’ where the proportions of single women employed is still higher than elsewhere - 63% + 8%.


3. Occupation

Informants were asked what exactly was their job, and the following table is an analysis of their replies when grouped in broad categories:-

4. Occupation

Professional and Administrative 6
Clerical, Short hand-Typists, Draughts-women etc, 21
Forewoman, Supervisor 7
Inspectors, Viewing 3
Machine Tenders and Hand Tool Operatives 1 26
Assembly, other unskilled Repetition Work 11
Labouring & Packing etc. 7
Distributive Operatives 7
Waitress, Barmaid, Usherette 7
Private Domestics 1
Transport Operatives 3
Miscellaneous Workers 2
Sample 2609=100%

Professional Workers comprise half of the first category, but it cannot be concluded from this that they represent 3% of all women in employment. As a group they are extremely difficult to discover and interview, since many work independently, and it is possible that for this reason the figure is only an approximation to the true proportion. Similarly, private domestic servants, particularly between 18 - 59 are an unknown quantity, correspondingly difficult to discover and interview. If anything the 1% given is an under-estimate.

5. Occupation analysed by Age and Status

Occupation Married Single & Widowed Sample
18-34 35-59 18-34 35-59
Professional and Administrative % 8 23 23 46 137=100%
Clerical, Shorthand-Typing, Draughtswomen % 26 13 41 20 532=100%
Forewoman, Supervisor % 18 18 25 39 183=100%
Machine Tenders, etc. % 24 24 38 14 674=100%
Assembly, etc. % 24 20 41 15 280=100%
Labouring, Packing % 26 33 29 12 171=100%
Distributive Operatives % 23 24 29 24 188=100%
Waitress, Barmaid, etc. % 19 27 25 28 169=100%
Transport Misc. Occupations % 23 19 51 7 111=100%
All occupations % 22 21 36 20 2455+=100%

1 “Hand Tool Operatives” means those who use a hand operated tool such as a drill or welder. Assembly and other unskilled repetition work includes those who do their jobs by hand, even though a file may be used in the course of it, as in removing the burr from a piece of machined metal. The division is between those who do their job with a machine and those who don’t.

+ Inspectors and Private Domestics excluded because of small numbers involved.

Almost one-half the Professional and Administrative workers are single and over 35. A lower proportion than in any other group is married, and the same group has the lowest proportion of married women under thirty-five. A less well-defined trend of a similar nature appears among those women occupying Forewoman’s and Supervisor’s positions.

Machinists and Operatives, Assemblers and others doing unskilled repetition work of a similar nature, have a fairly normal age distribution, save for a slightly higher proportion of younger single women and a correspondingly lower proportion of single older women.

A significantly higher proportion of married women than single women, especially in the upper age group, are engaged in the rough work of labouring and packing.

Distributive operatives tend to be slightly older than average, as do, to a somewhat greater extent, Waitresses, Barmaids, Usherettes and others engaged in work of a similar nature.

The higher proportion of younger single women among those engaged in Transport and Miscellaneous Occupations is mainly accounted for by the latter group. Among them are Land Girls, N.F.S. drivers and hairdressers.


4. Training

In all 29% of the sample said they had received some training for their job. 34% of the single women had had some training, compared with 23% of the married women. There were no age differences among the single women, but a greater proportion of the married women under 35 than over 35 had received some training.

6. Analysis of type of Training for job received by women in employment

Percentage of Women with Training Percentage of All women
% %
Government Training Centre 9 3
Works/Shop Training 27 8
Tech. School or Comm. College 36 11
University 5 1
Apprenticeship 8 2
Institutional 6 2
Evening School 8 2
All with Training 768 29
No Training 71
Sample: 2609

Government Training Centre includes Emergency Training Centres for non-mobile women. The greater part of those who had been to a Government Training Centre (53 women out of 72) were machine and tool operatives, or on assembly and hand repetition work. The remainder were scattered among the inspectors, forewomen, and those in clerical and administration work. They were principally young single women.

Works/Shop Training, defined as definite instruction on the job for not less than two weeks, was scattered through all occupations save private domestic work and labouring. 54% of those who received it were, however, machinists or on assembly. They were half those actually engaged on these jobs.

Of those who had a technical school or Commercial College Training, 86% were on clerical jobs. 6% were forewomen, and 5% in Professional and Administrative work, one was a departmental supervisor, and the remaining two were in clerical work.

The remaining groups are small in numbers, and more widely scattered through occupations than the equally small University group. Apprenticeship is the most widely scattered, being mentioned by forewomen, some machinists and assemblers, and a number of distributive workers. Institutional training, that is, training within a hospital or similar centre, was received mainly by those in Professional work. Those who had been to Evening School were mainly in clerical work.

The highest proportion of women with any training was, as the occupation figures suggest, in Commerce and the Professions, where 72% of the women had had training. The lowest proportions were in Food, Drink and Tobacco Manufacture, and Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment services, with 11% each. Other industries did not deviate significantly from the average of 29% .

5. Full-time and Part-time Workers

It was noted whether informants were full or part-time workers. One hundred and eighty-nine women, or 7% of our sample, were part-time workers, 94% were over 25 compared with 71% of those working full-time. 90% were married and 51% had children under 14.

The part-time workers were employed principally in Distribution and Transport Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment services.

6. Region

There are no regional variations in the age distributions of women in employment save in the case of Scotland, where the proportion of women of 18 - 24 years, 20% + 5% is significantly lower than the national average of 27% and the proportion of women aged 25 - 34 higher than average - 39% + 7%

The North Midland Region appears to employ a higher proportion of married women than other regions, 51% + 7%, and the South West a lower proportion of married women - 34% + 8%. The other regions do not deviate significantly from the average of 43%.

7. Place of Residence

Some personal details were ascertained about the women interviewed, among them their place of residence. 88% of all women lived at home, 3% in hostels, and 8% in lodgings. There were no differences between the age groups. An analysis by status showed that 94% of married women lived at home, compared with 84% of single women. On the other hand, 11% of single women lived in lodgings compared with 5% of married women.

Rather more than half (52%) of all women were mainly responsible for the housework, 83% of the married women were mainly responsible for it, compared with 22% of the single women. 79% of widows took the main responsibility for housework.


8. Children

In all 34% of the married and widowed women in our sample had children under 14. This figure is the same as that for employed women derived from the Registration of Women for Employment Order by the Ministry of Labour. An analysis by age group and number of children gave the following results:-

7. Distribution of children of married and widowed women in employment, by age of mother

No. of children under 14 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 Unclassified No All Ages
% % % % %
0 84 60 56 81 5 66
1 16 24 27 16 - 23
2 - 10 11 2 - 8
3 - 3 3 1 - 2
4 - 1 2 1 - 1
5 and over - 1 - - - -
Sample 160 467 411 263 28 1329

The women with children had an average of 1.5 children each, compared with the national average of 1.8 children for non-working women. Again, nationally, 38% of non-working women between 18-59 have no children, compared with 66% + 1% of working women.

Part-time workers were midway between full-time working women and non-working women. 51% had children, and those who had children had an average of 1.6 each.

There were no significant regional deviations from these figures. The chief industrial differences were that 19% of married and widowed women in commerce and the professions had children, compared with 38% of married and widowed women in engineering, and 37% in textiles and clothes.

All mothers of children under 14 were asked what happened to those children while they were at work. Owing to the fact that mothers do not make the same arrangements for all their children it is difficult to express the situation clearly in terms of mothers, so all the figures refer to the proportions of children affected.

59% of the children were at school and in the brief intervals between school and their mother’s return, either looked after themselves or visited a relation, 16% were wholly in the care of their grandmothers during the day. 7% were with other relations, 5% were with neighbours and 5% in nurseries. The remainder were attended to in various odd ways. 1% were looked after by someone paid to do so and 5% were evacuated. Half the children being looked after by their grandmothers, other relations or friends, and all the children at nursery schools, were under 5 years old. The mothers of 90% of the children were satisfied with the arrangements made for them, while the mothers of 80% of the children said the arrangement they had made was permanent while they worked. Evacuation was not considered permanent.


9. Education

An analysis was made of the education received by the women, based on the last school they had attended. In terms of elementary education, post-elementary education (including secondary schooling, and any schooling received after the age of fourteen) and University education, this showed that 73% had had elementary schooling, 22% post-elementary schooling and 2% had been to a University. 2% of the replies were unclassified. There are no significant differences between housewives and working women in this respect.

A higher proportion of those over 35 than under 35 had had a University education, but there were no other age differences.

There were considerable educational differences between industries.

8. The proportion of women with a post-elementary education in groups of industries

% Post Elementary University Sample %
Textiles and Clothes % 8 + 3 - 353 100
Food, Drink, Tobacco % 11 + 6 - 131 100
Other Manufacturing Industry % 15 + 6 - 130 100
Engineering & Metal Industry % 13 + 3 1 726 100
Distribution & Transport % 28 + 4 - 421 100
Laundry, Hotel & Entertainment % 14 + 4 - 267 100
Commerce & Professions % 62 + 6 13 347 100
Miscellaneous % 21 + 5 - 230 10
All industries % 22 + 1 2 2605 100

The lowest proportions of women with a post-elementary education are in Textiles and Clothes, Food, Drink and Tobacco, Engineering and Metal Industries, Other Manufacturing Industries, and Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment. Commerce and Professions have by far the highest proportion, as well as the only appreciable proportions of those with a University education. The distribution is no doubt linked up with the idea that there is a higher social status attached to a clerical than a manual job, with the result that girls of any education have gravitated toward commerce rather than factory work.

An analysis of occupation by education confirms this.

9. The proportion of women with a post-elementary education in occupation groups

% Post-Elementary University %
Professional and Administrative % 53 + 9 30 100
Clerical, Typist, Draughtswomen, etc, % 59 + 2 2 100
Forewoman, Supervisor % 30 + 7 4 100
Machine Tenders, etc. % 4 + 1 - 100
Assembly, etc. % 6 + 2 - 100
Labouring & Packing % 4 + 3 - 100
Distributive Operatives % 24 + 3 - 100
Waitress, Barmaid, Usherette % 6 + 2 - 100
Transport & Misc. Occupations % 12 + 3 - 100
All Occupations + % 24 2 100

+ + Excludes Inspectors and Private Domestic Servants.

Apart from the first three groups, the only other occupation with an appreciable proportion of women of post-elementary education is that of distributive workers. This would seem to confirm the social status theory advanced above since in the past distributive workers had a better social status than factory workers. In addition, of course, the growth of the large store, with their many administrative posts, would attract women of some education. The somewhat higher proportion in the last group, Transport and Miscellaneous, is accounted for by the miscellaneous occupations previously enumerated.


10. Economic Classification

On the basis of information given about husband’s or father’s occupation, an attempt was made to classify the women in employment on an economic basis. Two groups are peculiarly situated in this respect, however: those women who have no family background of that nature and are dependent on their own earnings, and serving soldier’s wives. Accordingly they have been separated from the economic groups both for the sake of clarity and to indicate what proportions of employed women they comprise.

11. Economic Groups from which Employed Women come

All employed women All classified economically
% %
Weekly wage of Chief Wage-Earner
Up to £3.12.0. 20 29
£3.12.0. - £5. 39 58
£5. - £10. 7 11
Over £10 2 3
Dependent on own earnings 19
Soldier’s wives 13
Sample: 2609 1760

Nationally 75% of all households are in the groups up to £5. per week, whereas 87 % of the economically classified women are in this group and adjustments for the other two groups would suggest that this is correct for all women in the sample. (It would appear, therefore, that to some extent the women in the higher income groups have gone into other forms of National Service and that the group from which the greatest proportion of working women has been drawn is that of the semi-skilled and skilled workers with wage rates of £3.12.0, to £5.0.0.)

The greatest proportion of married women were also in this middle income group, 41% + 3 were married, compared with 31 % + 2 in the. lowest income group and 30% + 3 in the upper income group, Only 7% of the women dependent on their own earnings were married, and were presumably separated from their husbands, the remainder were single (73%) or widowed (20%).

11. The movement of women into employment and into war-work

Informants were asked what they were doing just before the war, and their replies were grouped according to whether they had had the same job then as at the time of the interview, whether they had had a different job then, or had been at home or at school.

12. Employment before the War analysed by Age and Status

Married Single & Widowed Married & Single
18-34 35-59 18-34 35-59 All Ages
Same job then as now 36 35 42 71 45
Different job now from then 28 17 37 16 26
At home before the war 35 47 6 13 22
At school 1 - 15 - 6
Sample: 592 527 914 541 2574

More than half all single women -53% - are in the same job now as before the war, compared with 36% of married women. 8% of single women were at home before the war compared with of married women. 28% of all women in these age groups have re-entered industry, or come into it for the first time, since the war began.

The great contribution made by married women over 35 is clear from the above figures. Nearly half the married women over 35 now in employment were at home when the war began and a third of those under 35. Since it is the younger single women who are most affected by Ministry of Labour orders, it is to be expected that those under 35 should show less stability of employment than those over 35. The single women over 35 have, in fact, been least affected by job changes. The very great modification of customary patterns of employment is made very clear by the fact that 13% of the single women over 35 now in employment were at home before the war.

An analysis by industry shows only 22% of the women in Engineering and Metals were in that industry before the war. 51% came to it from a different job, while 24% came to it from home and 4% from school. It is in this industry, of course, that the greatest changes have taken place. The least change has taken place in Textiles and Clothes. 78% of the women in these industries were in them before the war. 7% only came to them from a different job and 14% from home. The next most conservative group is Commerce and Professions. 63% were in these employments before the war, 9% have come to them from a different job, 20% from home. It is of particular interest, perhaps, to note into which industries those girls who left school after the war began have gone. Textiles and Clothes are significantly the lowest, with only 2% of those employed in them now having come from school. Engineering and Metals, Food, Drink and Tobacco, Distribution and Transport, and Commerce and Professions have an average intake around 6%; other Manufacturing Industries include 9% of those at school before the war, however, and Miscellaneous Industries, 11%.

Regionally the North Midlands showed the widest deviation from the average. Employment there seemed to be more stable than elsewhere, 62% still being in the same job, 20% having had a different job, 13% having come from home, and 5% from school. The greatest change in the other direction was in the Eastern Region, where 29% only were in the same job, 34% had had a different job, 30% were at home before the war, and 8% at school. The other Regions showed no significant deviations.


12. The women with a different job now from before the war.

An analysis of the movement of women between one occupation and another, and one industry and another, based upon the job they were doing at the outbreak of war and what they were doing in Autumn 1943, is made difficult by the small numbers involved in such detail. By a process of grouping, particularly of occupations, however, some general statement can be made.

Broadly speaking, about half of those who have moved from any one industry have gone into Engineering and Metals. There are no significant differences between the industries affected. The number moved out of Engineering is negligible. The remainder of those who have moved have distributed themselves over all industries, but mainly into Distribution and Transport, Laundry, Hotel, and Entertainment Services and Miscellaneous Industries. The movement of those engaged in Textiles and Clothes before the war is representative of all industries, save Engineering and Metals.

13. Industrial Distribution at Autumn 1943 of those engaged in the Textile Industry Pre-War.

Industry Now %
Textiles & Clothes 8
Food, Drink, Tobacco 2
Other Manufacturing Industries 4
Engineering & Metals 54
Distribution & Transport 14
Laundry, Hotel & Entertainment 6
Commerce & Professions 1
Miscellaneous Industries 12
All in Textiles & Clothes Pre-War 140

Those still in Textiles have changed their occupation within the industry. About 10% of all those who have moved from one job to another have moved within the group of industries to which they were originally attached.

An analysis of changes in occupation indicates the extent to which those in non-essential occupations have been transferred to essential occupations, and those in essential occupations have been retained in them. Occupations have necessarily been condensed.

14 Analysis of Occupations now by Occupations Pre-War

Occupation Now Professional Administrative and Clerical Machinists & Assembly Ops Distributive Workers Waitresses, etc. Labourers and Domestics Misc. & Other Occs.
% % % % %
Profess. and Admin. 7 - 1 - -
Clerical Draughtswomen, etc. 40 2 10 6 -
Forewomen 10 3 5 2 -
Inspectors 6 10 5 6 -
Machine and tenders etc. 13 39 34 28 -
Assembly, etc. 5 22 16 18 -
Labouring and Packing 1 7 15 11 -
Distribution 4 5 1 4 -
Waitress, Barmaid, Usherette etc. 2 3 4 11 -
Transport Workers 4 2 5 6 -
Miscellaneous 7 7 3 7 -
All with different jobs 111 235 171 123 47
Sample: 687

Four-fifths of the women who are shown above as having been professional, administrative and clerical workers before the war were in fact clerical workers and they are the women responsible for practically all the movement from professional administrative and clerical work pre-war into manual jobs, such as machine and assembly work, during the war.

Two-thirds of those shown as having been machinists and assemblers before the war were machinists. 20% of those who were machinists before the war were assemblers at the time of the inquiry, but 40% of those who were assemblers at the beginning of the war had become machinists.

The greatest movement into machine work and assembly has been from the distributive and waitress group, 50% of whom are now in those occupations, closely followed by women who were labouring, packers, or domestic servants pre-war of whom 46% are now machinists or on assembly.

While 47% of professional, administrative and clerical workers are following the same occupation in a different industry, none of the distributive workers remain in their occupations (the movement to distributive here is from those who were waitresses) and only a small proportion of labourers are now labouring in a different industry, half the figures given being made up of former domestic workers.

In all, 20% of those who were in a different job from their pre-war job in Autumn 1943 had moved from one industry to another, but in their old occupation.

24% + 3% of all who changed their jobs had had training for their pre-war jobs. Allowing for greater movement in those occupations in which training is uncommon, this would seem to suggest that despite the influx of untrained women into industry since the war, the proportions with training has not declined so much as might have been expected.

12 13

13. The Women who have come into Industry from the Home

The age-grouping of those women who were at home just before the war and have come into industry since then, was higher than average, 55% of them being over 35 compared with 45% of those in the whole sample. 78% were married compared with 43% in the whole sample.

These women were asked whether they had ever worked before. 89% had done so. This was 93% of the married women and 78% of the single women. Rather more of the younger married women than of the older married women had worked before. On the other hand, rather more of the older single women than the younger single women had. worked before.

Of those who had worked before, only 20% had had any intention of returning to work. Similarly, only 7 out of the 59 women who had never worked before had had any intention of getting work. The reasons given by those women who had worked before for going back to work were as follows:

15 Reasons given for returning to work by all women who had worked before the war

Needed money, hard up 42
To get away from home 14
Duty to Country 23
Called-up 5
Volunteered to avoid call-up 6
Effects of war in general 6
Unclassified 3
Sample 395

Two-thirds of the women over 35 gave “Duty to Country” as a reason compared with one-sixth of those under 35. There were no other group differences.

An analysis of the industries in which those women who were at home just before the war were last engaged followed the normal pattern of women’s employment in peace-time, being very similar to that of the women who were in a different job before the war. A number of women had, however, not been employed since they worked on munitions in the last war and this is probably reflected in the significantly higher percentage (10% + 2% compared with 5% of the other women) who were last employed in Engineering and Metals. A further analysis was made of their industrial distribution now.

16 Industrial distribution Autumn 1943 of Women who were at home just before the war

Textiles and Clothes 9
Food, Drink, Tobacco Mfr. 5
Other Mfg. Industries 4
Engineering & Metals 31
Distribution & Transport 21
Laundry, Hotel & Entertainment 11
Commerce & Professions 11
Miscellaneous 8
All at home before war 523

Nearly a third have gone into Engineering, while nearly half the rest have gone into Distribution, Transport, Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment and Commerce.

The Distribution and Transport figures are again a reflection of the policy of moving younger women from Distribution and replacing them with older women from the home. Half those who were in Distribution before the war have gone back to it. For the rest, this conservatism is most marked among those who were in commerce and the professions before the war, those who were in Laundry, Hotel and Entertainment services, and those who were in Textile and Clothes, that is to say in those industries and employments most commonly regarded as women’s industries and employments. All through, however, the tendency has been for women to return to their old work or go into engineering.

An analysis by occupation states this conclusion more narrowly

17 Occupational Distribution, Autumn 1943.of previously employed Women who were at home just before the war

Occupation pre-war
Profess. Admin. & Clerical Machinists & Assembly Workers Distrib. Workers & Waitresses All Other Occuptns. Summary
Occupation Now % % % % %
Profess. & Admin. 10 - - 1 2
Clerical 61 5 8 7 18
Forewomen 3 2 5 9 5
Inspector 2 3 5 4 3
Machinist tenders etc. 8 44 15 14 23
Assembly etc. 3 18 9 11 12
Labouring & Packing 2 9 7 27 12
Distribution 9 5 23 9 11
Waitress, Barmaid, Usherette 2 7 19 9 9
Transport & Misc, Occupations - 6 8 9 5
All at home before war 116 175 110 122 523

This pattern is similar to that shown by the analysis of the present occupations of those who had a different job before the war. The majority of those in the penultimate column were previously Labouring, Packing and in Domestic Work and they account for the high proportions still in Labouring and Packing.

27% + 2% of those who came back had had training for their previous jobs. This figure would seem to confirm the figure of 23% + 3% already given for women who had come from different jobs, as well as the hypothesis that they were drawn from industries where training is more uncommon.

14. Women who were at school before the war.

Of the 144 women who were at school or college just before the war, 3% were married

It would seem that educationally they were of a much higher standard than the older women. 49% had an elementary schooling, 42% a post-elementary schooling and 8 % a university education.

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