Author(s): Irené Turner
Document Type: Book chapter
Year: 1993
Title of Publication: Women's Working Lives
Publisher: HMSO
Place of Publication: Belfast
ISBN: 1 337 09379 2
Subject Area(s): Social Care, Gender
Client Group(s) : Women

Background to the Research

  • Women's Working Lives Survey 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) to 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

  • Childcare is not evenly shared among partners: regardless of their employment status, 56% of married/cohabiting mothers with children under 16 undertook all or most of the childcare.
  • The involvement of partners in childcare activities for children under 16 was patchy. While 72% of partners often played with children, only 13% often took children to the doctor. These figures are not affected by social class.
  • Most working mothers (73%) could take time off work easily for childcare reasons, but only 54% of women working full-time and 28% of women working part-time were paid for this time. Those that were paid were more likely to be in professional, intermediate or skilled non-manual work.
  • Over half of married and cohabiting mothers worked, and 44% of these were worked full-time. There were some variations by age of the youngest child, in that women with younger children were slightly less likely to work, but that those did were more likely to work full-time. Mothers with more than one child were less likely to work part-time, than those with one child.
  • Childcare arrangements were ad hoc, informal and complicated for many working mothers. Over two thirds of children aged under three were looked after by a relative, and a further 30% were looked after by childminders. Two fifths of women used a variety of types of care. For children aged three and four, the importance of family care decreases and more children are looked after by childminders or a combination of types of care. This may explain why many women leave full-time work after their first child. 59% of children over five were looked after within the family.
  • 62% of employed mothers did not pay any child care costs, perhaps reflecting the significance of the family in childcare arrangements. The high cost of group care or cr²che may be a disincentive for mothers to remain in the workforce or to use this type of childcare.
  • Over half of working mothers chose family care as their preferred childcare option. Group care was important for mothers of children aged three or four, but was less preferable for other age groups. This may reflect the lack of availability of nursery places and/or their cost. Childminders were also important, perhaps reflecting the high number of registered childminders in Northern Ireland.


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