Attitudes and Motivations

Author(s): John Kremer
Document Type: Chapter
Year: 1993
Title of Publication: Women's Working Lives
Publisher: HMSO
Place of Publication: Belfast
ISBN: 0 337 09379 2
Subject Area(s): Employment, Gender
Client Group(s) : Women

Background to the Research

  • Women's Working Lives Survey (WWLS) was commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland in 1990. The survey was designed to: (1) identify factors which determine whether or not women participate in paid work and how the unpaid work undertaken by women in the home influences their involvement in the labour market; (2) record the type of paid work women have done and do, as well as their attitudes and experiences of employment.

Research Approach

  • 1000 women were interviewed who lived in private households and were aged between 18 and 65. The sample was drawn from the 1990 Register of Electors using a 2 stage proportionate random sample. The interview took a semi-structured approach, including some prompt items.

Main Findings

The Stereotype of the Woman Worker: Myths and Realities

  • 17% of women who had applied for work within the previous 5 years felt that they had been discriminated against because they were female, the main reason being that they may leave to start a family.

  • Previous research has shown men and women identifying similar factors as be being important in work, and similar job satisfaction levels. However, this may relate to differences in life goals between men and women.

Women's Attitudes and Orientations Towards Their Work

  • The vast majority (81%) of working women said that they worked because they needed the money, followed by liking the stimulation of going out to work (64%). 80% said that working makes them feel that they were doing something useful.

  • There were some differences between the attitudes of women working full-time and those working part-time: e.g. 83% of those working full-time would look for a new job immediately if they lost their job, compared to 60% of those working part-time. Full-time workers were more likely to say that they were often tired because of their work, and that they did not have enough time to see friends and family, especially if they had children.

  • When asked what factors were important when applying for jobs, personal issues (eg work I like doing) were more important, especially for women under 30.

  • 68% of women in paid employment or looking for work expected that they would work until they reached retirement age.

Job Satisfaction

  • Results for job satisfaction were similar for both full- and part-time workers.

  • Single women were less satisfied with pay than married women, and Protestants were less satisfied than Catholics.

  • In terms of satisfaction with the job itself, occupational status was a significant factor - professional women were more satisfied than other groups. Younger women were less content than older women.

  • Occupational status affected satisfaction with promotion prospects.

  • The majority of women were satisfied with their working lives in relation to work they liked doing, journey to work etc.

  • One third of women had been promoted at work, including 46% of those currently working full-time, and 33% of those in part-time work. Less than 10% had ever refused promotion, often because they did not want more responsibility, rather than reasons related to their personal lives. Two thirds of women in jobs with prospects of promotion would welcome it. Most of those who would not welcome promotion did not want more responsibility or were happy in their current job.

  • 42% of women not working stated that they were not in paid employment due to childcare considerations. 13% were looking for work.

  • The results show that there is no "typical woman" as experiences and orientations differ between individuals.

Attitudes to Women at Work

  • The right of a woman to choose whether to go to work is important, especially when she has no young children: 90% of women said the woman should make the decision about whether to work when there are no children; 41% believe a married woman with children under school age should stay at home. Older women have more traditional attitudes.

  • The wishes of a partner/husband were not deemed as very important. Respondents also thought that their partners would be less likely to leave the decision to the woman.

  • Responses to the Attitudes to Women scale relating to work issues show that age is the most significant factor, together with domestic circumstances and economic activity, for example, single women under 40 with no children and working full-time have the most liberal attitudes.


  • Women in Northern Ireland hold similar attitudes to work to women in Great Britain, and women's attitudes are becoming more liberal.

  • In general, women attach importance to the rewards gained from their work, and show high levels of commitment. However, the understanding of work motivation, orientation and job satisfaction by researchers is low.

  • Attitudes towards women's work were influenced by age and domestic situation - older women were less tolerant of mothers going out to work. However, the majority of the women questioned thought it was up to the woman to decide if and when she should work.


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