A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



Selecting a representative sample of student nurses in general hospitals presented some difficulty as there are no available statistics relating to this particular group of nurses.

It is estimated that there are rather less than twice as many such nurses working in voluntary hospitals as in municipal hospitals. In planning the sample, sixty - three hospitals were selected, of which forty were voluntary and twenty - three municipal. These were scattered over Great Britain so that some hospitals in all the larger centres of population were covered and also hospitals in a selection of smaller towns.

It was anticipated that not all the hospitals selected would be able to grant investigators facilities to interview nurses during the time allotted to the inquiry. Also a few of the hospitals chosen had no student nurses. Rather more hospitals were chosen therefore, than would be necessary to give the required number of interviews (500).

Investigators were instructed to interview on an average ten student nurses in each hospital. It was not possible to set precise quotas for each hospital as the number of nurses available for interviewing varied from one hospital to another and was not known beforehand. Altogether, fifty - two hospitals were visited and interviews were obtained with 490 student nurses.

Although not all the hospitals originally chosen were visited, the sample is well scattered over different regions and the proportions of nurses in voluntary and municipal hospitals is approximately correct. 62% of the nurses interviewed worked in voluntary and 38% in municipal hospitals.

In selecting the nurses to be interviewed, investigators were told to select at random from the nurses available except that the number of nurses in their first, second, third and fourth years of training should be roughly in proportion to the total number of nurses at these stages of training in the hospital visited.

Some analyses of the sample obtained are given in this section.


Stage of Training

Table 1

% student nurses in:-

Voluntary Hospitals Municipal Hospitals All Hospitals
% % %
1 st year 32 31 31
2 nd year 29 31 29
3 rd year 25 22 24
x 4 th year 14 16 15
Sample: 299 * 184 * 490 *

x The usual course of training takes three years, but in some hospitals there is a training period lasting four years.

* 7 forms unclassified voluntary or municipal.

No up to date statistics showing the number of women entering the profession for the first time, or the number of nurses leaving the profession before completing their training, are available, and it is therefore not possible to check these proportions against known figures.

No statistically significant differences are shown between the proportions of student nurses at different stages of their training in voluntary and municipal hospitals.


Half the student nurses interviewed were from 21 to 25 years old, and 36% were 20 or under. In the table below the age distributions of nurses at different stages of their training and of the whole sample of student nurses are shown.

Table 2
Age 1 st year trainees 2 nd year trainees 3 rd and 4 th year trainees All student nurses
% % % %
Up to 20 61 39 16 36
21 – 25 30 49 65 50
26 – 30 8 8 15 11
Over 30 1 3 4 3
Unclassified - 1 - -
Sample: 152 144 195 490

As might be expected of student nurses in the earlier stages of training, a higher proportion are in the younger age groups.

There are no statistically significant differences between the proportions of nurses in different age groups in voluntary and municipal hospitals.



Student nurses were asked at what type of school they had been educated. Classification was made according to the last type of school attended. The proportions attending different types of school are shown in Table 3, and are compared with the corresponding proportions of unmarried women aged from 18 - 40 in the whole population of Great Britain. * The latter figures were obtained in another sample inquiry made by the Wartime Social Survey at about the same time as the present inquiry.

Table 3
Last school attended % student nurses % unmarried woman aged 18 – 40 in population *
Elementary 31 Elementary 60
Central 5) 64 Higher than elementary 40
Secondary (Municipal) 46)
High (Foundation) 13)
Private 4
Unclassified 1
Sample 490 Sample 574

A much higher proportion of the student nurses had some higher education. Only 31% of student nurses had only elementary education as against 60% of single women aged from 18 to 40 in the population.

It is of interest to consider these figures with some results given in the report of the Lancet Commission on Nursing 1930. (Appendix ‘XVIII, Table VII)• It may be calculated that of the hospitals approved as complete training schools giving information, 41% required that applicants should have secondary education, 16% preferred them to have secondary education and 43% accepted applicants with seventh standard elementary education or had no definite requirements.

Of the voluntary hospitals, 61% required secondary education but of the municipal hospitals only 6% required secondary education. Further proportions of each group preferred to have girls with secondary education but did not insist upon it.

From Table 4 below, it is clear that there are still differences in the standard of education required by the voluntary and municipal hospitals.

Table 4

% student nurses in:

Last school attended: Voluntary Hospitals Municipal Hospitals
% %
Elementary 22 46
Central 5 6
Secondary 51 38
High 17 6
Private 5 2
Unclassified - 2
Sample 299 184

Half the student nurses interviewed in municipal hospitals had only elementary or central school education. Of those in voluntary hospitals however, three quarters had reached a higher standard of education than this.

There are no statistically significant differences in the proportions of nurses in their first, second, third and fourth years of training attending different types of schools. This suggests that hospitals have not in the last few years, lowered the standard of education required in order to alleviate the shortage of nurses.

[3] 97% of student nurses were under 30, but education figures for single women aged 18 – 30 are not available. The two sets of figures are not therefore strictly comparable.


Father’s Occupation

Student nurses were asked their father’s occupation as it was thought that this would give some indication of the sort of social and economic groups from which recruits to the profession were drawn. When the nurse’s father was retired or dead the previous occupation was not asked in all cases. The results given below are, therefore, based on 439 and not on 490 answers.

Table 5
Father’s occupation % student nurses
Manual workers 23
Shopkeeper, business men 17
Farmers and market gardeners 14
Clerical, secretarial etc. 12
Supervisors, foremen etc. 7
Professional and technical 16
Forces and Civil Defence 10
Miscellaneous 2
Sample: 439

“Manual workers” includes factory operatives, miners, building workers, labourers, transport workers, etc. This group constitutes two thirds of the male working population, but only 23% of the nurses had fathers with such occupations.

14% of the student nurses were farmers’ daughters. This is a very high proportion. Agricultural workers form altogether only about 8% of the male working population and these include both farmers and farm labourers. The proportion that farmers form of male workers must be considerably less. It appears from this that nursing is a profession which appeals particularly to girls of this type.

The great majority of the nurses had fathers in non - manual occupations, shopkeepers, business men, clerks, supervisors and professional and technical workers. The percentages shown for these groups are all high in comparison with the corresponding proportions of the male working population.

There are some sharp differences in respect of father’s occupation between nurses in voluntary and municipal hospitals.

Table 6

% student nurses in:

Father’s occupation Voluntary hospitals Municipal hospitals
% %
Manual workers 14 37
Shopkeeper, business men 19 12
Farmers and market gardeners 13 13
Clerical, secretarial etc. 12 12
Supervisors, foremen etc. 8 5
Professional and technical 19 12
Forces and Civil Defence 12 7
Miscellaneous 2 1
Sample: 267 166

A much higher proportion of the nurses in municipal hospitals had fathers who were manual workers. The proportions having fathers in farming and in clerical occupations are the same for both groups. A greater proportion of the nurses in voluntary hospitals had fathers who were shopkeepers, business men, supervisors or professional and technical workers.

Tables 3 and 5 show that nurses are drawn largely from the middle economic and social groups whose members follow mainly non - manual occupations and amongst whom a high proportion of families can afford to keep the children at school for some years after they are fourteen. This means that relatively few nurses are recruited from the larger sections of the population. The voluntary hospitals tend to draw them from the smaller sections of the population rather more than the municipal hospitals.

It was found in a previous inquiry (see Wartime Social Survey Report No. S. 5. “The Attitudes of Women towards Nursing”) * that women and girls with a lower standard of education, and particularly factory workers, were rather less critical of nurses’ working conditions than were those who had secondary education and were in clerical and similar jobs. The former, who constitute a much larger section of the population, showed no less favourable attitudes towards nursing from other points of view. The main objections to nursing among unmarried women aged under 35 and secondary schoolgirls were the hours of work and the standard of pay which were thought to compare unfavourably with those of other occupations, and these were stronger among the better educated than among other groups.

Answers to the main questions asked in this inquiry have been analysed by age, stage of training, education, father’s occupation, and whether working in a voluntary or municipal hospital.

In the following sections, results for those different groups are given only when statistically significant differences are shown.

[4] A summary of the results of this inquiry is given on page 35

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